(UPDATE: Not Larry Sabato writes, “the issue of whether federal lobbyists were prohibited from serving as Party Chairman was interpreted for RPV in 2006- and they found that the individual did need to resign as a lobbyist.” Ruh roh. – promoted by lowkell)
As you may know, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, Dick Cranwell, has announced his resignation as of the end of 2010. That means a race is going on right now to replace him. So far, there are two candidates – former Del. Brian Moran and former Arlington County Democratic Commmitee Chair Peter Rousselot. The election, by the Party’s Central Committee, is scheduled for Saturday, December 4, just a few weeks from now.
To date, the big issue that’s arisen pertains to Brian Moran’s “day job,” which is as a lobbyist at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (formerly Career Colleges Association, or CCA) with our old friend (and long-time lobbyist, which the Webb campaign blasted him on in 2006) Harris Miller. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the for-profit “education” industry, it’s among the worst of the worst, as detailed by a blistering Frontline story as well as an ABC News piece by Chris Cuomo. That issue alone should raise a lot of questions for Virginia Democrats. Do you really want to support a new chair with problems like these hanging over his head?
Earlier today, Not Larry Sabato reported on a law that House Democrats unanimously supported this law, as did Senate Democrats. That includes current DPVA chair Dickie Cranwell, current Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, 2009 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, and many others. According to the law:
The chairman or any full-time paid employee of a state political party, as defined in § 24.2-101, or a member of his immediate family, as defined in § 2.2-3101, shall not be employed as a lobbyist by any principal.
That’s a potentially big problem for Brian Moran, of course, given the fact that he’s a registered lobbyist on this issue. Not surprisingly, and as expected by those of us following this issue for weeks now, Moran has immediately tried to wriggle out of the law on a possible legal technicality, claiming that “he believes the statute applies to state lobbyists, not federal ones,” and also that “he spent only eight percent of the last quarter lobbying.” Perhaps, but as former DPVA Chair Paul Goldman – at whom the law was aimed in the first place – points out, “obviously, the intent was that they didn’t want a lobbyist as a state party chairman.”
And, of course, the Career College Association doesn’t just do federal lobbying work; in fact, it has multiple state affiliates, including one in Virginia headed by Mark I. Singer. In 2007, Singer shared his “top 10 tips for successful lobbying” at the State Affairs Coordinating Council (SACC) meeting in Rosemont, Illinois. The SACC, in turn, is an “umbrella [that] comprises CCA and the state associations representing the for-profit postsecondary education sector.”
As for Brian Moran, he is director of all “Government Affairs” at (his new boss) Harris Miller’s lobbying firm, not just “federal” lobbying. Miller himself has lobbied Richmond on these issues, so clearly there’s state lobbying by the APSCU going on. As if there were any ambiguity at all, Harris Miller cleared that up pretty well in welcoming Brian Moran to his fine organization:
As a leading voice for the higher education sector before policy makers in Washington, DC and across the country as the new head of CCA’s government relations program, Brian will deliver the critical message about the value contribution of career higher education with the passion and eloquence he has brought to his many years of public service.
Got that “and across the country” part? Also, as Miller helpfully points out, Brian Moran’s “thirteen-year legislative career” will make him “a tremendous asset to the Association and career higher education sector.” Uh huh.
So, what’s wrong with the for-profit “education” industry, anyway?
It is the abuse that…ruins lives and destabilizes communities that we oppose. We encourage other organizations to join us in taking proactive steps to protect student loan borrowers from incurring woefully onerous debt burdens associated with enrolling in…programs that do not lead to gainful employment.
Many minority students are among those who are lured into incurring huge amounts of student loan debt for programs that fail to provide adequate training.
It’s not just the United Negro College Fund saying this, it’s also the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, LULAC, and the National Council of La Raza. It’s also Sen. Dick Durbin, who declared at the National Press Club in June 2010, “There is growing concern that we could be looking at a repeat of the subprime mortgage fiasco, with low-income, high-risk students mortgaging their futures – not on overpriced homes this time, but on worthless diplomas.” It’s also Sen. Tom Harkin, who issued a report in late September 2010 that concluded, “many for-profit colleges view students as no more than cogs in the profit-making machine, with little concern for their education or success.” The report also found that “For-profit education companies claim to offer access to higher education to low-income and minority students. Data analysis of 16 for-profit schools indicates that they are more likely to offer their students debt without a diploma.” Ouch.
And then there’s President Obama himself, whose administration is busy cracking down on this industry with new regulations.
These will ban incentive pay for admissions recruiters, limit the creation of new programs, require disclosure of graduation rates and job placement rates to new students and strengthen the department’s hand in taking action against schools which fail to advertise honestly.
The biggest for-profit education company, Apollo Group, said on Thursday that the Education Department intends to review its programs at the University of Phoenix that receive federal student aid.
And guess who’s fighting the Obama Administration on this? That’s right, career colleges and their newly-strengthened Republican allies in Congress:
For-profit colleges, whose stocks have lost 34 percent this year, are likely to get help from Republicans to ease limits on federal grants and loans that provide the bulk of education companies’ revenue.
Republican Representative John Kline from Minnesota, in line to become chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, has criticized a proposed U.S. Education Department regulation that ties for-profit colleges’ eligibility for student aid to whether graduates pay back their loans. The department today began two days of hearings on the so-called gainful employment rule.
That’s right, the forces arrayed against Barack Obama, Tom Harkin, Dick Durbin, etc. are right-wing Republicans and the career colleges, led by Harris Miller and…Brian Moran! And now we’re talking about having Moran as the new head of the Democratic Party of Virginia? As Paul Goldman says in the Washington Post, “If it turns out the party is saved from embarrassing the President of the United States by putting this person as chairman of the party by using this law that was aimed at me, well, it’ll be one of the mysteries of politics”
At this point, you might be saying, “c’mon now, this can’t be serious, have we completely lost our minds, not to mention our moral bearings as Democrats (not to mention progressives)? A lobbyist, let alone for a slimeball industry that preys on minorities, as the head of our party? Is this a bad joke?”
Apparently, it’s no joke, at least not an intentional one. Which raises the question, where is the outrage by Democrats in the General Assembly, particularly progressives and others who care about the terrible impact the for-profit “education” industry has on communities and – to quote the United Negro College Fund – “[m]any minority students are among those who are lured into incurring huge amounts of student loan debt for programs that fail to provide adequate training.”
By the way, several people have raised the prospect that Brian Moran could simply quit his job at the for-profit “education” lobbying shop if he’s elected as DPVA chair, thus staying within both the letter and spirit of the law prohibiting lobbyists from being party chairs. There’s some truth to that, but it ignores a few big issues. First, there’s this problem:
You think someone would actually resign a well-paying job to be state party chairman?
This isn’t a paid position…
And, as Ben Tribbett adds, “Especially when he took the job because he was near personal bankruptcy after his Governor campaign. Now he is going to quit to be a volunteer?”
Second, and more importantly, there’s the broader question of what the Democratic Party stands for and what it stands against. I’ve already laid out the case for why the for-profit “education” industry is heinous. I also think it’s pretty obvious that most people believe lobbyists should not be heading state parties, as the unanimous votes in the House of Delegates and State Senate on this issue make clear. Morally, there’s no serious case to be made for this industry, as it’s basically a scam that rips off the American taxpayer to the tune of tens of billions a year in order to give students degrees they often can’t use and to saddle them with debt burdens they can’t repay.
Over at The Richmonder, JC Wilmore expresses things clearly and to the point:
There are some who are trying to split hairs here and say that Moran is a federal lobbyist while this law is only intended to apply to state lobbyists. To me the question is whether a Moran chairmanship would violate the letter of the law, or just its spirit. To me, being a lobbyist–particularly for a controversial industry like for-profit education–is incompatible with the position of DPVA party chair.
Now, Brian Moran is free to quit his day job and sever his connections to uber-lobbyist Harris Miller, but the question then becomes whether Moran is willing to sacrifice that income in order to focus on rebuilding the DPVA.
More and more, Moran looks like someone who would be a part-time chairman with real or apparent conflicts of interest. The DPVA central committee needs to start looking at alternatives rather simply rushing to fulfill the wishes of a handful of insiders.
That’s all bad enough, and by all rights should put an immediate end to this candidacy. Then there’s the politics of this, having the head of the Democratic Party in Virginia – where Tim Kaine, a close friend to Barack Obama and head of the Democratic National Committee, used to be governor – led by an organization that is currently gearing up for a battle royale with…Barack Obama! If Brian Moran quits his job because he’s forced to do so, it still raises the question – what WAS he thinking? I’d love to hear some answers to these questions, not just the silence this issue has mostly been greeted with so far.