March 7, 2012

EXCLUSIVE: Subprime Schools Lobbyist Trent Lott Explains How He Won Over Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Subprime Schools Lobbyist Trent Lott Explains How He Won Over CongressThe for-profit college industry  — which runs what some would refer to as “subprime schools” — is facing more and more scrutiny for its abusive practices that leave students drowning in debt and taxpayers on the hook for paying for worthless degrees. That’s why it’s ramping up its lobbying in Washington, demanding that the federal government continue its billions of dollars of subsidies for the industry via federal student loans and grants.

Yesterday, the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) — a trade association for the for-profit college industry — hosted a meeting in Washington D.C. I was there. Yesterday I wrote about how both a close confidante of Bill Clinton who pushed a draconian anti-piracy law and a high level Bush White House staffer who helped run the campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act explained to the industry how to “get in on the ground” and pressure candidates to support their industry. Today, I’ll reveal how the group has enlisted former members of Congress to push its agenda.

Halfway through the conference, APSCU hosted a “Cloakroom Conversation With Former Members of Congress,” featuring former federal lawmakers that it has bought off to lobby for its agenda. One of these lawmakers was former Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R), who works as a lobbyist for Patton Boggs and the Breaux Lott Leadership Group. He was joined by former Sen. John Breaux and another former congressman who I was unable to identify.

Lott explained to the crowd of for-profit college representatives how he lobbied multiple members of Congress, and noted that a few — like Senators Lisa Murkowski (R) and Scott Brown (R) — have been hesitant to support the for-profit college industry’s full agenda, especially in light of news that the industry is targeting and mistreating veterans.

“We have gone out and have started to talk to members of Congress. We made it clear that this is an organization that’s not just in a reactive mode. That they have a story to tell and they’re going to be proactive,” boasted Lott. “They’re going to be on the offense. They’re not going to wait for some Senator or House member to challenge or criticize them because they didn’t know what was really being done in this particular area.”

“I went to John McCain, who obviously can be a tremendous ally or a royal pain if he doesn’t understand what you’re doing. And he’s really going to make sure that our veterans for instance are going to be taken care of…and I think we have, as a result, John is gonna be an ally, and will be helpful,” heexplained. “I went and visited with Scott Brown…he also had a lot of questions and didn’t exactly follow up the way I wanted him to, so he’s one of those senators we’re going to have to go back at to and talk to so more. Because he didn’t do exactly what we hoped he would.”

Lott noted that Senator Enzi was a “very aggressive ally of APSCU” but requested the help of Lott and Breaux to “talk” to other members of the Senate Committee of Jurisdiction to convince them to be on their side. Lott noted that he talked to Murkowski and then to Sen. John Portman (R-OH).

“I talked to Senator Portman of Ohio who’s a new member of the Senate but he’s got a long resume having served in the house. He was head of office of management and budget in the white house…he was contemplating getting on a bill by Senator Wyden that we had some concerns about. And so when I talked to him I asked him to withhold on getting that bill until we could get him some more information and answer his questions, we had very good conversation. He followed up with his staff and got more information, as a result we were able to keep him from getting on the bill,” Lott gleefully told the audience. “And also now we have the potential of turning him into an ally.” Watch Lott boast about his successful lobbying:

Even though Lott was triumphant about the success of his lobbying for the industry, he did have one concern. The former senator loudly worried that  news about the for-profit college industry’s targeting of veterans for its scam programs would cause Republican senators to withdraw their support.

“Right now you’ve got pretty unanimous support among Republicans and I don’t mean to be partisan, but I think the record will show in the house and the senate republicans are pretty favorably disposed. With some of them actually in question…Ms. Murkowski is one, Scott Brown is another. But the danger would be if somebody came up with something that did show some evidence that veterans were not being treated properly. That would be a real problem,” Lott told the audience. “So we have veterans here and make sure their stories are told and make sure you’re doing everything you can to be helpful to veterans is very important in our ability to being able to keep some of this bad legislation from taking flight. If we did start losing senators like Scott Brown and John Mccain then we would have a problem. So we need to be conscious of that. Do everything you can to be helpful to veterans. And I know its not always easy, because they have unique problems they need [inaudible].” Watch Lott worry that abuse of veterans may cut off the industry’s gravy train:

Lott appeared worried that the public will learn about cases like that of Adam Gonyea. Gonyea is a U.S. Navy vet who attended ITT Technical. The school provided him with poor instruction, had little administrative oversight of his education, and even over-charged him. He was left thousands of dollars in debt and was eventually dropped from his program. The industry representatives that were regaled by Lott yesterday hope that the public won’t hear stories like his.