October 28, 2020

For-Profit College Lobby Stacks Post-Election Convo with Democrats

For-Profit College Lobby Stacks Post-Election Convo with Democrats

Each year, the for-profit college lobby group CECU holds a November “CEO Summit,” a gathering where top industry executives take stock and address the challenges ahead. Notably, at the 2016 summit, the big speaker was former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who was both a close associate of CECU CEO Steve Gunderson, and an early supporter of surprise election victor Donald Trump. As captured in the excellent documentary Fail State, Gingrich crowed at the meeting that the mood at the event would have been much different if Hillary Clinton had won, and declared that the CEOs in the room were “central” to Trump’s vision of making America great again.

And indeed, the former head of scam Trump University, installed in the Oval Office, has worked with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to trash Obama-era measures aimed at stopping predatory college abuses. Trump and DeVos have consistently done the bidding of for-profit college owners, despite overwhelming evidence that predatory schools have ripped off taxpayers and deceived and abused veterans, single parents, and other Americans who sought better lives and ended up buried in debt

But Gunderson, a former GOP congressman, can read the political tea leaves, and knows how to hedge his bets, and he has prepared a 2020 CEO summit speaker lineup that includes some serious Democrats. In an email to CECU members, obtained by Republic Report, Gunderson writes (using his trademark exclamation point), “the November National Elections will have a huge impact on you and your schools’ future!” Speakers set for the meeting, to be held in person at a hotel in the Denver area, include:

— Loretta Sanchez, a former Democratic U.S. representative from California, a current candidate in California for community college trustee, and the sister of a current Democratic U.S. Representative, Linda Sanchez (CA). Sanchez is slated to talk about “Diversity, Democrats and Decisions for the Sector.”

— Lobbyists from Fulcrum Public Affairs, a Democratic firm retained by CECU to lobby House members of color. Fulcrum was  founded by lobbyists who previously worked at the fabled, collapsed Podesta Group. Federal lobbying disclosure filings show that CECU has paid Fulcrum $360,000 in the past two years for lobbyists from the firm — Oscar Ramirez, Dana Thompson, Aaron Trujillo, Margaret Franklin, and Miya Patel — to work Capitol Hill for the industry. All of these Fulcrum lobbyists previously worked for Democratic House members, almost all of them members of color. Fulcrum also is lobbying for International Education Corp., a CECU member and the disgraceful operators of awful predatory schools including Florida Career College, which, a recent lawsuit alleges, targets Black students for its worst abuses. Fulcrum is set to talk at the CECU meeting about the new U.S. Congress. 

Terry Hartle, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the American Council on Education. ACE, head by former Obama Deputy Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, is the umbrella lobby group for U.S. colleges and universities. Hartle, a Democrat, was for six years the top higher education aide to liberal giant Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). Gunderson has cultivated Hartle since taking the CECU job in 2012. Some for-profit schools, including the University of Phoenix, Strayer University, and Monroe College, are ACE members. Hartle pushed hard during 2019 Department of Education rulemaking meetings to get a dubious consensus on rules favored by DeVos and her top higher ed aide, Diane Auer Jones, a former top executive at predatory Career Education Corporation. Hartle is set to talk with CECU executives about “What the Election means for Higher Education.”

Other announced speakers at the CECU event include Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman and Amy Kurfist, an education expert at Hanover Research.

If Trump surprises the pundits and wins re-election, expect Gunderson to change the speaker lineup.