Bob Walker: A staunch conservative. A U.S. Space Force proponent. A friend of Newt Gingrich. A soft pretzel enthusiast. One of ASU’s lobbyists.
Because private University foundations are not required to disclose spending habits to the public, ASU’s lobbying expenditures are difficult to track. But records about lobbyists who are paid directly from the University’s budget are public and show that ASU hired the former representative's lobbying firm moonWalker Associates to fight for the expansion of space exploration.
ASU also does not allow members of the press to interview the University’s lobbyists, a spokesperson for the University said in an email.
From 1977 to 1997, Walker represented Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During that time he earned a reputation as a feisty conservative voice who took a keen interest in science and space issues while maintaining a headstrong, confident demeanor. He was also chair of the House Science Committee, which helped develop his expertise in this area.
Since his retirement from the House in 1997, he began advising space exploration and development companies on how to, as he said to Politico in 2019, “navigate the federal bureaucracy.” He then went on to start moonWalker Associates for space-related issues.
Walker has written that he believes protecting space is a necessary development for today’s progressing technology, especially regarding military-grade weapons that can be used in space.
“Today, we are at war every day in space,” Walker said in a column he wrote for The Hill in 2019.
Walker knows how to command a room, even if it’s empty.
While in Congress, Walker found creative ways to share his agenda. He discovered that he could reach the American people through C-SPAN broadcasts, projecting his thoughts to an empty chamber after House sessions had ended.
Peter Carlson, former Washington Post reporter, described Bob Walker as a “House guerrilla" in his 1986 article, “Is Bob Walker the Most Obnoxious Man in Congress.”
“I kind of liked him, actually,” Carlson said in an interview with State Press Magazine. “Walker was very funny and charming.”
Carlson said Walker resented politicians who came into office intending to stick around for 10 terms because serving in Congress for 20 years came with a great pension.
“I saw that he actually stayed in Congress for exactly 20 years before retiring and becoming a lobbyist,” Carlson said. “So he wasn’t as far from the people he was mocking as he thought he was.”
Walker had a reputation of getting things done in Congress. In a 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer article, reporter Steve Goldstein described Walker as “one of the 800-pound guerrillas of the GOP-run House” and “one powerful dude.”
The publication reported in 1995 that while he was in office, Walker received the nickname “Abominable No Man” for his forceful tactics. The Inquirer reported in 1994 that he had an admiration for automobiles, and a few times each year he “goes to a speedway, straps himself into a Formula 2000 race car, and pretends he's at Indy.”
“(Walker) is someone who (cannot) compromise very well,” his former college classmate G. Terry Madonna said in the same article.
“He did not just take a seat and rest on his morals,” Madonna said in an interview with State Press Magazine. Madonna was also a former student of Walker’s father.
Walker’s legacy includes declaring April 26 as National Pretzel Day and invoking a divisive congressional rule prohibiting members from using papers while making speeches.
Walker’s voting record aligns with ideology of pro-death penalty, pro-military and conservative groups and frustrates pro-labor and environmental protection groups. Walker once compared Republicans under Democratic leadership to Jews under Nazi dictatorship.
As one of Trump’s senior campaign advisors, Walker supported Trump’s 2016 effort to completely defund NASA’s Earth Science Division that conducts research on the climate. Walker deemed the program as “politically correct environmental monitoring.”
According to a 1995 article by Physics Today, Walker was a “fierce opponent of ... earmarking,” the tactic by which congressional appropriators allocate funds for university research facilities or programs that have neither been peer-reviewed nor debated on the Senate or House floor. But ASU has been a frequent benefactor of earmarks, as a great deal of University funding results from this tactic.
Walker was described as a “pit bull” and a “confrontational, obstructionist, the most obnoxious man in Congress, a nattering nabob of nit-picking, and the Creature from C-SPAN” in the 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer profile on him.
Politico reported ASU hired moonWalker Associates in mid-2019 to represent the University in legislative battles. But why?
In recent years, ASU has taken a much greater interest in space-related issues. The University has formed partnerships with space exploration companies such as NASA and SpaceX to offer better educational opportunities for students.
ASU’s partnership with Space Micro, a small business dedicated to improving microelectronics and communications technology in space, has enabled the University to become involved in pioneering space technology.
But the choice of contracting Walker as a lobbyist is bold, given Walker’s eccentric character and willful attitude.
Walker is adamant about the possibility of a space war, detailing how President Trump’s Space Force will reduce imminent threats the U.S. regularly faces from space. Walker does not give any specific details on what these threats entail, but he touts the Space Force as an “opportunity to move into the future,” he said in a Twitter video posted earlier this year.
His firm focuses on space issues such as advocating for more space technology and preparing for an inevitable space attack.
According to ProPublica, moonWalker Associates spent roughly $70,000 lobbying for the Artemis program at ASU. Spearheaded by NASA, it intends to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. It also aims to “establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028."
So far, the only public reports of ASU’s involvement with the Artemis program are University affiliates becoming involved in the research process. The Artemis program awarded Jiseon Yang, a research professor for the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, $750,000 to conduct research pertaining to interstellar water protection for space travelers.
Whitney Riggs, ASU senior director for federal relations, said Walker provides the University with “specialized expertise” as a longtime space commercialization advocate as he encourages NASA to provide the University with additional opportunities.
“NASA regularly has open requests for proposals to perform research and ASU often applies for, and frequently is granted, this funding,” Riggs said. “Specifically, Mr. Walker is well-situated to ... directly engage policy makers on ASU’s current space related initiatives and those initiatives that will impact the University for years to come.”
How exactly he will do that is unknown. But what is known, as Walker puts it, “Space today and tomorrow is a combat zone.”