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Al From Pens Editorial Opposing Regulations on For-Profits Without Disclosing His Firm’s Ties

Last Thursday, Al From, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, penned a Wall Street Journal editorial that criticized what he called “the puzzling assault” on some practices of for-profit schools—an “assault” that many student, consumer, education, and civil rights groups have joined. These groups, including the advocacy arm of Campus Progress, support “gainful employment” regulations proposed by the Department of Education earlier this year. From argued in his editorial that these regulations “would deny potential students the student loans they need to pursue their educations at for-profit schools.”

From is echoing arguments that other opponents to the gainful employment regulations have recited, even though the regulations target specific programs—not entire schools—that result in high debt burdens or cost too much compared with earnings.

The for-profits’ opposition to the regulation has been strategic, often relying on pronouncements by Democrats. Lobbyists and consultants engaged by the for-profit industry include, for example, former Democratic congressmen Richard Gephardt and William Gray. Campus Progress previously highlighted lobbyist Lanny Davis, who touts himself as a “progressive Democrat” while working as a paid lobbyist against staple progressive causes like the card check provision of the Employee Free Choice Act—and now the gainful employment rule.

A previous piece I wrote noted that Davis wrote an editorial for The Hill attacking Steven Eisman, a Wall Street short seller and a critic of the for-profit industry, for alleged ethical violations. Shortly thereafter, Davis was engaged to lobby against the gainful employment regulations on behalf of the Coalition for Educational Success, an umbrella group of for-profit schools. (Davis also represented former Massachusetts Governor William Weld in a matter related to a for-profit college once run by Weld before writing the op-ed for The Hill, a connection Davis says his editor didn’t think needed to be disclosed.)

Around the same time, Melanie Sloan, executive director of the government ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), made similar arguments about Eisman. Sloan recently announced she will be joining Davis’s firm in January.

Yet another criticism of Eisman was offered in a Huffington Post article by Tom Matzzie, a former top MoveOn staffer, who did not acknowledge in the piece, but later admitted, that his lobbying firm represented a coalition of for-profits.

Now From has joined the fray, defending the for-profits and attacking the proposed “gainful employment” rule. But From has failed to disclose his own ties to the for-profit college industry.

The tagline of From’s Wall Street Journal piece identifies him as “principal of The From Company LLC” and “a founder of the Democratic Leadership Council.” The DLC, of course, is a long-standing and sometimes influential “New Democrat” group; its chair from 1990-91 was Governor Bill Clinton, who would be elected president soon after. But the affiliations that From listed don’t tell the whole story.

From also is a consultant to Akin, Grump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld LLP, a law firm that has lobbied on behalf of for-profit giant Kaplan University, which is actively opposing the regulations. Kaplan spent $350,000 on federal lobbying in the third quarter of 2010, $100,000 of that through Akin Gump, and $270,000 in the second quarter, $90,000 at Akin Gump, according to an analysis by Inside Higher Ed.

From didn’t respond to Campus Progress’ requests for comment on his ties to the industry.

From may genuinely disagree with the gainful employment regulations, but readers should know that his firm has ties to interests who stand to gain from the policy he is advocating. From should have disclosed that essential fact.

Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.

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