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Alumni serve in Washington

John Cameron | Friday, November 16, 2012

With five alumni gaining or holding seats in Congress following last week’s election, the University’s ties to national politics are more prominent than ever.

Rep. Joe Donnelly’s election to the U.S. Senate, Keith Rothfus’s win for a seat in the House of Representatives and the re-elections of Peter Visclosky, Peter King and Michael Kelly to the House offer strong avenues for advocating the University’s interests on Capitol Hill said John Sturm, associate vice president for Federal and Washington Relations.

Sturm, a 1969 Notre Dame graduate, was appointed to the newly-formed position on June 1.
He’s been tasked with communicating the University’s views to federal officials, including the aforementioned alumni.

He said the degree to which the University works with alumni in Washington depends on the committees they sit on.

“We don’t know what committees [Donnelly] is going to serve on,” he said. “That has some effect on what he does and how he might interface with the University.”

Regardless of where Donnelly ends up, Sturm is excited for the opportunity to collaborate with the 1977 alumnus.

“Not only is he a Notre Dame alum, but he comes from South Bend. He lives locally and his wife works at the University,” he said. “That’s about as good a relationship as one can expect, and frankly, Joe Donnelly is a very easy person to be around.”

Sturm said future committee placement is clearer for Rep. Visclosky, a 1973 graduate of the Law School returning for his 15th term in the House.

“He’s been on the Appropriations Committee for ages. I think he’s likely to become the ranking member of the [defense] subcommittee … that’s a pretty big deal,” Sturm said. “Congressman Visclosky has been a terrific friend of Notre Dame. He recently visited campus and we were able to show him a few facilities where his help has brought fruit for Notre Dame.”

Given the limits on committee chair tenures, Rep. King’s committee assignment is unclear following his re-election, Sturm said.

“Pete King has been chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the House … We don’t know yet, but we should know fairly soon whether he’s going to move to another committee as chairman or if he’s going to get a waiver to continue on homeland security.”

While the University has little at stake within the area of homeland security, King’s high profile has done much for the Notre Dame brand in Washington, Sturm said.

“King has been pretty prominent when major things happen around the world or domestically,” Sturm said. “He’s been on radio, television and newspapers a lot … We’re waiting to see what happens with him.”

As for the remaining alumni in Congress, Sturm said the formal interactions with the University have been minimal so far.

“Mike Kelly, I think he’s been on foreign affairs. We haven’t had much to do with Congressman Kelly as of yet. Committee assignments mean a lot,” he said. “Keith Rothfus [hasn’t had] any committee assignments yet. We’re not really sure where he wants to go.”

Regardless of whether their area of policy focus is directly relevant to the University, Sturm said each elected alumnus benefits Notre Dame.

“The more the merrier. When members are Notre Dame alums … for example, they can have an effect – especially if they’re the chairman or ranking member on a committee – on witnesses brought into a hearing,” he said. “To have witnesses in front of Congress to provide information for policy makers, they get quoted in the press or appear on TV, all that contributes to the overall image and success of the University.”

Sturm said the alumni voted into office last week aren’t the only ones on Capitol Hill building the Notre Dame alumni presence.

“There’s also a strong, great group of Notre Dame alumni, parents and friends who make their living around the federal government – lawyers, lobbyists, trade association folks, journalists, defense contractors – who interact one way or another with the federal government or whose businesses depend on the federal government,” he said. “For them to be successful and prominent is another way the University’s image goes north, and they’re a resource for Notre Dame.”

While their relationship with the University doesn’t affect the voting or policy stances of Notre Dame alumni in office, Sturm said the affiliation allows for smoother communications.

“It just is a lot easier. You have faster and easier access and there’s familiarity with the alums. I make it my business to get around and see them,” he said. “That extends to the Indiana delegation as well.”

Regardless of where officials were educated, Sturm said the University’s reputation carries weight in Washington.

“Representing the University of Notre Dame, I don’t think there are too many people who haven’t heard of us. It’s a great brand. Other than some of the Ivies … we’re in that league, generally speaking,” he said. “Partly because of our Catholic significance and because of our reputation as a great undergraduate school that produces people who are not only successful, but seem to be successful by doing things the right way.”

Contact John Cameron at
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