As we head into an election year, we're going to increasingly hear that Democrats and Republicans fight like cats and dogs, that there is a civil war in Washington. This describes the state of play on some issues, but on others there is bipartisan agreement to do the wrong thing: Both parties do what the money tells them to do. How this works is subtle and often kept secret, done in rooms meant to shield policy-making while the public is distracted with electoral hoopla. Fortunately for Republic Report readers, I got access to one of these rooms, and I can explain how the money guides policy-making.
It starts with high level party functionaries paid by a rich industry, which uses the talents and connections of those party functionaries to extract government concessions. In this case, it's the for-profit college industry, which perpetually leaves students with astronomical debt while providing poor quality education. The functionaries were former Bill Clinton advisor Doug Sosnik and Republican consultant Sara Fagen. Rather than fighting like cats and dogs, these two showed a keen sense of bipartisanship as they told leaders of these for-profit education companies how they can use their power to manipulate Congress into handing them more money.
The for-profit colleges, multi-billion dollar companies that rely on federal grants, have collected themselves into the super-boring sounding association known as the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU). Today, they held a closed-to-the-public but open-to-the-media meeting in Washington, D.C. to plot how to keep Congress from approving stricter regulations on the billions of taxpayer dollars that their corporations receive through federal student loans and grants.
The first session of the day featured a presentation by Democratic consultant Sosnik and Republican consultant Fagen. Before Sosnik and Fagen spoke, an ASPCU representative noted that Sosnik most recently worked for the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) on its legislative campaigns. The MPAA was last seen trying to undermine freedom on the internet through similar political connections and campaign contributions.
Both Sosnik and Fagen delivered Power Point presentations where they laid out national polling, explaining to the audience the chances of President Obama getting re-elected. I imagine that they each care about their party winning, since it impacts the fee they can extract from corporations seeking influence. After their polling presentations were completed, the audience had a chance to ask questions. One audience member asked how the for-profit college industry can best impact Congress and the various congressional campaigns that are currently underway.
Fagen laid out a strategy for an astroturf (which means fake grassroots) campaign, saying that it's "much better to get in front of a candidate running for office before he or she is actually in office." She referenced the "card check issue," the Employee Free Choice Act, a controversial bill to strengthen labor unions. Fagen noted that the retail industry engaged in anti-union astroturf operations in swing districts and that when key Democrats were elected, "they were in our corner." She went on to note that the for-profit college industry should be on the ground in Wisconsin to get candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat to commit to being for or against their legislative agenda.
Sosnik then took to the microphone and -- despite being a long-time Democrat and close advisor and friend of President Clinton -- praised Fagen's anti-union strategy, noting that she was one of the people who ran the campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act and "she was totally right about that." Sosnik is not elected, and neither is Fagen -- but their opinion matters to policy-makers. And as you'll see, Sosnik's cynicism about democracy is fascinating.
"Members of Congress are not always great leaders," said Sosnik. "They are terrific at seeing when a line has formed and going and getting in front of the line. There's nothing that politicians are more interested in than themselves and keeping their jobs." He advised the industry to take its "assets on the ground in Wisconsin" and leverage them against the candidates. Above all else, Sosnik stressed that the industry had to maintain a strong presence on the ground in the districts of key candidates for office (earlier in the presentation, he noted that the MPAA was "roadkill" in its fight for the Stop Online Piracy Act, which he apparently helped spearhead, because it failed to engage the grassroots).
Watch Sosnik and Fagen advise a for-profit college industry that seeks to avoid accountability to students and taxpayers:
Presumably Sosnik and Fagen were paid, and paid well, for their appearances. The joint presence of a senior Clinton advisor like Sosnik and a veteran of the Bush White House like Fagen echoes the bipartisan nature of the lobbying effort the for-profits continue to wage to avoid accountability for waste, fraud, and abuse with federal dollars and students' futures. Democrats and Republican lobbyists can put aside their partisan feelings to come together to assist the for-profit college industry. These lobbyists appear to have one goal that they put before ideology: the money that the for-profit colleges are paying them to ensure that the government continues to hand them as much cash as possible with as little strings attached as possible.
This story is adapted from a post originally appearing on Republic Report.