Meet the lobbying firm fighting for ASU at the Capitol

The group wants the legislature to reverse the trend of university funding cuts

Arizona Devil’s Advocate is a ‘sledgehammer’ of an organization getting ready to launch a lobbying effort to force lawmakers to return University funding to 2008 levels.

University funding has been on a downward trend since 2002, with a slight uptick in 2008 before trending down to this day. 

Arizona Devil’s Advocate, an ASU-aligned lobbying firm, wants to take on the Arizona Legislature and reverse this trend of cuts to university funding and restore it to 2008 levels when 50 percent of in-state tuition was covered by the state. 

The non-profit was founded by ASU Trustee and Phoenix business leader, John Graham, and is led by Republican political consultant, Brian Murray. 

Murray said the organization will lobby Arizona legislators about ASU's needs and defend the University's interests. 

“The chief concern that we have is that since 2008, $1.5 billion has been cut from ASU’s budget from the Capitol, and we want to see that restored," he said. 

Rising tuition costs are a concern across the U.S., but in Arizona, low tuition is a constitutional mandate, with the constitution calling for public universities to “be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as free as possible.” 

“The legislature is not living up to that obligation,” Murray said. “So they try and push it off to the Board of Regents and to the universities themselves and say they spend too much money, but the truth is they don’t fund at the level that they used to — or anywhere close to it.” 

The organization is ramping up recruitment efforts in anticipation of the next legislative session, which starts in January. 

Murray said that while the brunt of the effort will be done by lobbyists, the true power of the organization is in its numbers. 

“We will be down at the Capitol, talking to lawmakers every day during the session, but when a bill comes up or an issue comes forward where we have a particular lawmaker who needs to hear from his constituents that are ASU alumni, we want to be able to tap into that broader universe and say, ‘These are your own constituents, they want to see something done whether you’re Republican or Democrat,’” Murray said. 

Part of the strength of the organization, Murray said, is in its nonpartisan approach to the issue of University funding.

“(Constituents) love ASU, and they’re more of a Sun Devil than they ever will be Republican or Democrat,” Murray said.

He said the organization's success is in lockstep with movements like RedforEd, which led to increases in K-12 education funding and raises for teachers earlier this year. 

“You get these kind of awakenings happening, and it’s already happening in the business community too, where people are saying ‘enough of the status quo,’” Murray said. “If we can fund a 20 percent pay raise for teachers, then we can get the universities the funding they need.”

Part of Arizona Devil's Advocate's efforts include a Facebook social media campaign and other advertising. Murray said advertising helps the firm to increase awareness and recruit members in anticipation for the next legislative session.

"When we get into session and things are moving really fast at the Capitol, we want to be able to turn to these people and say, 'We need your help,'" he said. "So-and-so legislator just isn’t listening, and they need to hear from people.” 

One of the volunteers for the organization said that RedforEd teachers have commended their efforts at football games, where the group tables. 

Political science and public policy senior Shiloh Schardt said that they were appreciative of the efforts. 

"Most people we’ve talked to have actually been teachers who did the RedforEd movement, and they are fully behind us, and the alumni are glad that we are doing this," he said. "They think it’s a great thing to expose that the legislature is not fully funding the University, and it’s not fair to the students."

Murray said the group will do whatever it takes to advance ASU's interests at the State House. 

“I don’t view us as the guys who are like, ‘Hey we are going to play softball' – no we’re here to come in; we’re here to make sure that lawmakers understand who we are, and if that means that we’re going to have to get aggressive, that’s the role we will play,” he said.

While the organization doesn’t seem to currently face any opposition, Murray said he doesn’t expect any in the future due to the importance of ASU to the Arizona community.

“I don’t think any politician in this state would be dumb enough to attack the ASU community,” Murray said. “If they did, I think they would do that at their own risk and peril.” 

On the student level, Arizona Devil’s Advocate is gathering signatures at home football games, under the direction of communications senior Victoria Holderbach, who said the effort is becoming a movement.

“Just at the last game on Thursday, I was talking to one person about it, and two more people jumped into the conversation, and next thing you know, I have 10 people next to me listening to everything I had to say about our funding cuts, so it’s definitely becoming a movement and people are getting excited,” she said. 

Volunteers handed out T-shirts and plastic footballs to passersby at the Devil’s on Mill festival at the ASU football final home game of the season. 

Kelly Liu, an intern for the consulting company that oversees the Arizona Devil’s Advocate and a senior studying communication, said that she would do anything to support her community and give back. 

“I feel like it is a really good cause to bring people together,” Liu said. “It’s a nonpartisan effort, so I feel like no matter who I talk to, young or old, they pretty much all agreed that ASU needs more funding — they are usually just like ‘thank you for doing this for us.'"

Liu said the signatures would bolster the organizations efforts at the Capitol. 

"So we are going to take them to the legislature in the next session to show them, 'Hey this many people in the community think that we deserve more funding. We are the biggest University around here, and we are a public university,'" Liu said. "So we are basically going to call them out for it."


Reach the reporter at isaac.windes@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

Like The State Press on Facebook and follow @statepress on Twitter.


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.