Kelly Ayotte Fundraises With Lobbyist For Trump-Style University

The online degree factory allegedly targets the very veterans the senator pledged to help with the GI Bill.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is attending a Thursday fundraiser with a lobbyist for for-profit colleges.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) is attending a Thursday fundraiser with a lobbyist for for-profit colleges.

WASHINGTON -- One thing Donald Trump's candidacy has done is shine a light on the unscrupulous activities of shady for-profit colleges like Trump University.

But that and a slew of other negative news reports in recent months and years is not stopping New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) from attending a fundraiser scheduled for Thursday with a lobbyist for one of those schools.

There are others involved in the event, but the lobbyist in question is Jeff Pannozzo, the vice president of BridgePAC, the political action committee that promotes Bridgepoint Education. That company is currently under investigation by several state attorneys general, the Securities Exchange Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

It was also the subject of a Huffington Post probe in 2011 and a scathing Senate hearing that year, which was Ayotte's first in office. 

Among the allegations levied against the outfit are claims that it lures students with false promises, offers a poor education, and has an enormous dropout rate. Its students are then left with mountains of debt and no degrees.

And while Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has taken a personal interest in education benefits for veterans, working to preserve GI Bill payouts as recently as April, veterans have been named as a particular target of Bridgepoint, whose Ashford University branch was allegedly motivated by the lure of the federal cash available from the GI Bill.

Ayotte's campaign did not answer an email request for comment.

The senator's affiliation with Bridgepoint is not isolated.

According to data kept by the Federal Election Commission and crunched by the Center for Responsive Politics, the PAC has given Ayotte $8,000 for this election. Another PAC that promotes similar for-profit universities, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, chipped in another $1,000 to the senator. 

The Bridgepoint donations started in February last year, and Ayotte noticed.

"Thank you for your kind and generous contribution. I deeply appreciate your support and friendship," she wrote them in a thank-you note posted on the group's website. "It is a great honor to serve in the United States Senate. No matter how difficult the political climate may be, I remain steadfast in my commitment to stand up for the beliefs that you and I share."

The first-term senator is locked in an extremely tight contest with Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), and her contest is seen as one of the keys for Democrats if they are to retake control of the Senate.

UPDATE: June 30 -- Bridgepoint's PAC has since removed the page where it posted Ayotte's thank-you note. The PAC's manager did not answer an email asking why the page was gone, but a cached version can be found here.