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Executive Director of Ethics Organization Joins Firm of For-Profit Lobbyist

Today several news outlets reported that Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), is leaving the ethics watchdog group in January to join the firm of Lanny Davis, a well-known Washington lobbyist who first earned his fame helping to defend former President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trials.

What's interesting is that Sloan's organization came under criticism in a piece that was recently published in The American Prospect for CREW's surprising attack on critics of the for-profit higher education industry, including Wall Street investor Steven Eisman. The for-profit schools oppose the “gainful employment” regulations proposed by the Department of Education to crack down on training programs that leave many students without job prospects and buried in student loan debt.

On July 14, CREW filed a complaint against Eisman with the Senate's HELP committee. Lanny Davis in an op-ed for The Hill published on July 23 also criticized Eisman's lack of disclosure of his position attacking the for-profit industry because he was "shorting," or betting against, the industry.

Both CREW and Davis contended that Eisman acted improperly by testifying against the for-profit industry without disclosing that, as a short-seller of for-profit schools' stocks, he stood to gain if new federal regulations caused those stocks to decline.  Interviewed by the Prospect, Sloan declined to say whether CREW received financial support from the for-profit industry or its executives. 

In response to a recent Campus Progress post that critiqued Davis' involvement with for-profits, Davis said that he was hired by the Coalition for Educational Success (CES), an umbrella group of for-profits, in September—but only after he spoke out against Eisman.  (Davis already had been lobbying on behalf of a for-profit trade school owned by former Massachusetts Governor William Weld.) The Prospect article reported that Sloan had previously spoken with another lobby firm, The LawMedia Group, which also had a for-profit lobbying group as a client, about potential employment there.

Yesterday, Davis issued a statement renewing his attack on Eisman, alleging that Eisman "met secretly" with then-Deputy Undersecretary Secretary of Education Robert Shireman prior to issuing new regulations on for-profits.

When asked about the timing of Sloan's hiring at his firm, Davis told Campus Progress over the phone that Sloan's hiring and her previous work on the for-profit industry is coincidental. "When I talked to her about needing help in my practice, I had no idea she was even indirectly interested in the career college issue, let alone that she had put a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request in." Davis says he talked to Sloan for the first time in October.

Sloan says that she first spoke to Davis about going to work with him on Oct. 19, several weeks after the Prospect piece was published. "I think Lanny has an exciting and interesting practice. My experience as a prosecutor on the Hill and at CREW makes me a strong advocate for those targeted by [upcoming] congressional investigations," Sloan says. "I think there's a strong role for me to play in congressional investigations."

Davis says that he didn't know when they first spoke that Sloan would be joining his firm. "We reached a final decision only in the last couple of weeks," he says in an email.

Update: In an interview with Justin Elliot at Salon, Sloan said "she didn't speak to Davis about joining his firm until Sept. 22." In a follow up email I exchanged with Sloan today, she said, "Lanny and I had lunch on September 22nd. Mostly we chatted, but we had a brief, but vague discussion about my joining his practice. There was no discussion at all about for-profit colleges." She said they meet again, with little contact between the two dates, on Oct. 19 to talk seriously about her joining Davis' firm. Sloan added, "The first time I realized Lanny was working for for-profit clients was when the Mike Elk piece ran on October 6th. Because of that, when we met on the 19th, I specifically told him I realized he was working on this and that CREW had been involved in the issue since the end of June. Concerned about real or perceived conflicts, as soon as I came back from meeting with Lanny that day, I spoke with CREW’s chief counsel, Anne Weismann, and told her she would now make all decisions as to how to proceed on this matter without input from me."

Kay Steiger is the editor of

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