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Romney Super PAC Gains Contributions From For-Profit Colleges

Despite intense scrutiny from federal lawmakers and the general public, the for-profit college industry’s political efforts are still going strong.

Lobbyist groups like the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 1,800 for-profit institutions, has spent approximately $3.8 million (including $900,000 in 2011) lobbying on behalf of its clients in the past decade.

The Apollo Group, the corporation behind the University of Phoenix, gave $75,000 in February to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports presidential candidate and frontrunner Mitt Romney. They are also the only company to donate directly to his campaign effort, giving the maximum donation of $5,000.

Romney is getting financial support from across the sector.

Other contributors include the CEO of Full Sail University, Bill Heavener, and C. Kevin Landry, whose private equity company owns Full Sail. (Romney has touted the benefits of Full Sail along the campaign trail, and Heavener is coincidentally a co-chair for Romney’s fundraising efforts.) Combined, these Full Sail executives (and Heavener’s wife) have contributed more than $200,000 to Restore Our Future.

The former Massachusetts governor has also garnered donations from officials at Education Management Corporation, which is highly invested in the for-profit industry. CEO Todd Nelson has donated, and his wife contributed $50,000 to Restore Our Future.

When asked about his wife’s contribution, Nelson said: “I’m aware of some of the things my wife does and some not.” (When you’re wealthy, it must be hard to keep track of where your wife spent that $50K.)

In total, the Romney campaign and Restore Our Future have collected more than $430,000 in donations from for-profit colleges and individuals with ties to the sector.

Landry and Heavener have denied that financially backing Romney has anything to do with the candidate’s support for Full Sail University or for-profit colleges in general, but instead maintain they are just fans. Heavener has called Romney “the best candidate for what America needs at this time.”

It’s easy to see why for-profits back Romney. As David Halperin, the founder of Campus Progress, wrote recently:

A top Romney education advisor and fundraiser is Bill Hansen, who as Deputy Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, sent a directive declaring that the government would go easy on for-profit college recruiting abuses, unleashing a decade of waste, fraud, and abuse in the sector.

While Romney appears to be getting the most financial backing from the sector, some for-profit executives are contributing to other candidates, too. For instance, the co-chairman of Full Sail’s board, Ed Haddock, has given more than $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee and President Obama’s super PAC.

What’s troubling is that the overwhelming majority of most for-profit colleges’ revenue is comprised of federal dollars. These schools can legally use the revenue they receive from tuition and federal Title IV grants which, at some schools, make up as much as 90 percent of revenue, to lobby Congress directly or through groups like APSCU.

This also applies to funding election campaigns and donating to super PACs. This means that funding entrusted to them as a way to benefit students’ educational experience can be turned around and used to focus on schools’ political agendas.

Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) have previously introduced legislation attempting to cap the amount of federal funding those for-profits can receive, but there is no current legislation to redefine how Title IV funding may be spent. Harkin and Durbin have also led calls — along with the Obama administration — for increased scrutiny of the sector, which often leaves students without useful degrees and saddled with massive amounts of debt.

Sponsorship and lobbying efforts are only going to increase as the election nears, and it’s concerning that groups like APSCU and individual for-profit schools can continue to back candidates who support deregulation practices and undermine constructive federal policy.

This article was originally posted on Campus Progress Pushback.org

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