This evening, Chris Kirkham with The Huffington Post wrote a scathing article about Ashford University, which is a for-profit college located in Clinton, Iowa that has 76,000 students, 99% of them take classes online.
This online college has been basically robbing students blind, 60% to 70% of people who enroll there drop out and are stuck with huge debts. What's worse, the public corporation running the school has been robbing the federal government blind too. Huffpost reports that nearly 85% of their revenues, nearly $600 million last year, came from the federal government.
Now, you may ask, how is this happening in our backyard without more of an uproar? One reason might be the campaign contributions and political glad handing that the parent company for Ashford University, Bridgepoint Education, has undertaken this past year.
Bridgepoint Education PAC contributed at least $7,250 to Iowa politicians in 2010. The contributions have been mixed between D's and R's, but the Clinton County Republican Central Committee was able to squeeze $350 from their PAC. Click here to see the Bridgepoint Education PAC campaign finance records. Bridgepoint Education also invested over $40,000 on lobbyists in 2010.
Bridgepoint also appears to have hired Iowa lobbyists every year since 2004, and records indicate they paid the firm Carney, Appleby, Nielsen & Skinner a $39,000 retainer in 2010.
- According to 2004-2005 records, Paula Feltner and Michael Heller were retained as lobbyists for Bridgepoint.
- According to 2005-2006 records, Paula Feltner and Michael Heller were retained as lobbyists for Bridgepoint.
- The 2006-2007 Client data indicates that Michael Heller and Paula Feltner were retained as lobbyists for Bridgepoint.
- The 2008 Lobbyist client records indicate that George W Appleby, from Carney, Appleby, Nielsen & Skinner, PLC, were retained as lobbyists for Bridgepoint.
- According to 2009 lobbyist client records, George W Appleby was retained as a lobbyist for Bridgepoint.
- The 2009-2010 client data indicates that Carney & Appleby received a retainer of $39,000 and a reimbursement for $1,223.33.
- According to 2010 lobbyist client records, George W Appleby was retained as a lobbyist for Bridgepoint Education.
- According to 2011 lobbyist client records, George W Appleby was retained as a lobbyist for Bridgepoint Education.
Iowa has dozens of people profiting off the misery of tens of thousands of American students who attended Ashford University hoping for a better future. If the candidates and lobbyists knew what was best, they would give this money to an Iowa charity that actually educates students. Heck, they could give it to the United Way or the YMCA - anyone that would actually do some good for our communities.
The one shining light in this nightmare story is the fact that Senator Harkin is on a war path to get our taxpayer money back, he's held several hearings on their practices and continues to push for more. There is still radio silence on the state level, but hopefully it's not because of the campaign contributions and lobbyist influences from Bridgepoint Education.
One final note: I will be publishing blogs like this about campaign finance linking to a SCRIBD archive I created with over 19,600 Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board documents (everything that they had as of February 22, 2010). The IECDB is a complete disaster and they make it almost impossible to search across all of their records (lobbyist and campaign finance), which makes Iowa less transparent. A simple search on the SCRIBD database for Bridgepoint showed what appears to be all of their actions in Iowa. This simple solution cost me $0 to implement and is a huge improvement from the current system. If Iowans want a more transparent government, one place to start is our outdated IECDB website and database.