Beneath the raw offensiveness of Mitt Romney’s statement to his donors that President Obama won by providing “gifts” to African-Americans, Latinos, and young people, is a layer of remarkable hypocrisy: It was actually Romney who was promising big giveaways of taxpayer money during the campaign. But instead of offering his gifts to actual people, Romney pledged to reward his favorite kinds of virtual people — corporations and banks.
I can offer two blatant examples, from the education field, where I do some work. Given Romney’s strong orientation toward crony capitalism – businesses that get rich off government programs – I’ll bet you can come up with more.
1. Romney gift to for-profit colleges. On the campaign trail last year Romney praised “the advent of for-profit institutions of higher learning.” In his May 2012 education policy paper, “A Chance for Every Child,” Romney criticized President Obama’s “gainful employment” rule as burdensome and harmful to for-profit colleges, and he pledged to do away with such “complicated and unnecessary regulations.” That rule would end federal student aid for programs that consistently leave their students deep in debt — for example, programs in which two-thirds of former students are unable to pay back their student loans.
Does it make sense for taxpayers to pay such schools to ruin students’ lives with expensive, low-quality programs? Not to me, and not to many education policy experts. But for-profit colleges, which take $32 billion from taxpayers each year, have lobbied hard to block the rule, so they can continue acting with impunity. Mitt Romney offered them that gift, at taxpayer expense, if he were to be elected.
Why was Romney so generous with our money when it came to these corporate people? At least two reasons: They were generous with him, and he was in business with them.
For-profit college employees and political action committees donated more than $225,000 to Romney’s campaign. The political action committee of the Apollo Group, owner of the largest for-profit college, the University of Phoenix, which Romney praised by name on the trail, contributed $75,000 to the Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future and the maximum $5,000 to Romney’s campaign, the company’s only contribution to a 2012 presidential candidate. Goldman Sachs, the number one source of contributions to Romney, owns 41 percent of the second biggest for-profit college company, EDMC. Romney’s campaign was the top recipient of EDMC employee support for this election cycle, with over $25,000 in donations. EDMC’s chairman, Todd Nelson and his wife, Amy, contributed $7,500 to the Romney campaign, and Amy Nelson gave $50,000 to Restore Our Future. Todd Nelson also donated $30,800 to the Republican National Committee.
One relatively small for-profit college, Full Sail University was extremely generous to Romney. Restore Our Future received $135,000 from Full Sail CEO Bill Heavener and another $329,900 from C. Kevin Landry and P. Andrews McLane of TA Associates, the private equity firm that owns Full Sail. Landry also donated $89,900 to American Crossroads, the pro-Romney Super PAC founded by Karl Rove. Candidate Romney praised Full Sail as a school that knows how to “hold down the cost of their education” when in fact it is the third most expensive college in America.
As Republic Report and others have documented over the course of this year, Mitt Romney didn’t just accept money from these owners of for-profit colleges, he’s also in business with them. Mitt Romney’s son Tagg and campaign finance director Spencer Zwick run the private equity fund Solamere Capital, which was launched in 2008 with a $10 million investment from Mitt Romney. TA Associates is one of the firms that Solamere Capital offers to its clients for investment. TA Associates owns Full Sail University and other for-profit schools including troubled Vatterott Colleges, marked by exploitative recruiting practices and high student loan defaults.
Along with programs at University of Phoenix, EDMC, Kaplan, Career Education Corporation, and Corinthian Colleges, programs at both Full Sail and Vatterott flunked the first round of the gainful employment test and risk losing their eligibility for federal aid. So Romney’s proposed elimination of the rule would have been a true gift to for-profit college owners, including TA. And if TA gets richer, the Romneys get richer. Romney’s proposed gift to for-profit colleges was, thoughtfully, also a gift to himself.
2. Romney gift to banks that issue students loans.
The same Romney education policy paper pledged to reverse President Obama’s reform of the student loan system. Until recently, the big firms dominating the student loan business — Sallie Mae, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase — got paid as if they were lenders, when in fact they were merely loan servicers; it was taxpayers who actually took the risk of students defaulting on loans. These banks then used our money to hire lobbyists to protect their billions in unwarranted profits. The Obama Administration stood up to them, and in 2010 Congress, with nowhere left to cut spending, finally ended this absurd giveaway. There’s absolutely no logical reason to restore this massive waste of taxpayer money. You would only do it if a central principle of your presidency was to hand out gifts to special interests who helped you get elected. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo employees are ranked numbers 3, 6, and 7 among the top 2012 Romney donors.
These are not simply examples of Romney promising to cut regulations that industries dislike. These were examples of Romney promising to maintain or resume unimpeded flows of billions in taxpayer dollars to business enterprises for wasteful and even destructive purposes. These were promises of gifts. I’ll bet there are others — if you can think of some, please speak up.
This article also appears on Huffington Post.