Political nonprofits and dark money in Alabama education politics
The proliferation of political nonprofit organizations since the Citizens United decision has undoubtedly reshaped American politics. These interest groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent state and federal elections. Yet, little is known about how these organizations influence higher education politics and the extent to which higher education leaders rely on political nonprofits to increase state support and tilt policy decisions in their favor. To that end, this descriptive case study analysis explores the purpose and activities of a short-lived political nonprofit organization in Alabama, the Alabama Association for Higher Education (AAFHE). Using publicly available data, I developed a follow-the-money scheme to illustrate the activities of the AAFHE and its affiliates. Findings suggest that leaders of the University of Alabama System established the AAFHE to sustain and obtain resources through political contributions and lobbying at the state and federal levels. The AAFHE employed several direct and indirect lobbying strategies to secure state and federal resources for higher education institutions in Alabama, primarily those within the University of Alabama System. The study highlights the ethical and practical challenges campus leaders face when using political nonprofits to advance institutional goals.
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