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WVU hires in-house lobbyist, consultant

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new West Virginia University official is the latest hire in the university's efforts to increase its lobbying cadre.

All told, the university could spend close to $500,000 this budget year on advocates in Charleston and Washington, D.C.

At the end of the month, Sarah Smith officially starts work as WVU's associate vice president for state and corporate relations, according to a Tuesday news release.

Smith will work out of Charleston and earn $140,000 a year, university spokesman John Bolt said.

"She will be a great champion for WVU in Charleston and around the state, working with various elected officials as well as corporations and the private sector," said Bill Hutchens, WVU's vice president for corporate and legal affairs and general counsel, in the news release.

Hutchens did not respond to Daily Mail requests to elaborate on the duties of the position.

Bolt said Smith would provide "leadership and advice consultation on all sorts of matters."

That includes representing the university on government relations issues at the state Capitol, as well as at the county and city level, Bolt said.

She'll also serve the university regarding donor and alumni relations, Bolt said. This is the first time the position has existed in this configuration, and she'll report directly to Hutchens, Bolt said.

He referred further comment about the job to Hutchens.

Reached Thursday, Smith said she would return a call. She did not.

Smith graduated in 2004 from the WVU College of Law and most recently lobbied in her position as director of government and external affairs for Alpha Natural Resources, according to the news release.

She joins a crew of three lobbyists based in Charleston and another two working in Washington, D.C.

Last session, the university's nonprofit affiliate WVU Research Corp. hired Paul Hardesty, John Cavacini and Larry Puccio on short-term lobbying contracts to represent the university's nonprofit affiliate. All three have multiple lobbying clients and are well known as the capitol.

Cavacini said he believed all three were hired again in July, this time on full-year contracts. His contract is worth $40,000, and he said he believes the other contracts are worth the same amount.

Puccio said he had a contract but didn't remember off the top of his head how much it was worth. Hardesty did not return a message left by the Daily Mail.

Cavacini and Puccio said they had not yet sat down to discuss lobbying efforts or strategy with anyone at WVU, but they are scheduled to meet soon. To the best of his knowledge, Cavacini said he thought Smith would help coordinate those efforts while the three contract lobbyists would be WVU's "boots on the ground" at the Capitol.

Puccio said he didn't know exactly how the relationship would work but said that's how other clients with in-house employees have coordinated efforts in the past.

Last year, the trio worked on several measures, including advocating against higher education budget cuts and allowing universities to spend more money on a capital improvement project before they need approval from the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Pointing to the $13 million cut WVU took during the last budget cycle, Cavacini said he expects the budget could again be a focus for the university's lobbying efforts in 2014.

"We work specifically on the top priorities that make West Virginia University work better and be more successful in the state," Puccio said. 

At the national level, WVU employs Mary Bowman and Richard French. Bowman is officially the director of federal research relations. She received $92,560 in 2012, according to the state auditor's website.

French was hired in late 2012 as the director of external and federal relations. Bolt told the Daily Mail in 2012 French earns $160,000 a year. The auditor's website states he received $37,334 in 2012.

A spokesman for the auditor could not immediately confirm how much Bowman and French have been paid in 2013.

The next state legislative session starts Jan. 8.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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