Campaign Pitch at For-Profit College Leads to State Investigation in Kentucky

Jack Conway, the Kentucky attorney general who is leading a 20-state investigation into for-profit colleges has become a prime political target for that industry. Now state officials are investigating whether the anti-Conway tactics of some of the colleges violate state election laws.

Last week officials from the attorney general’s office appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations, after an employee of Spencerian College, part of the for-profit Sullivan University system in Kentucky, reported being publicly pressured in front of 150 fellow employees to donate to the campaign of Mr. Conway’s opponent in the coming November election.

The special prosecutor has also been asked to investigate alleged election-law violations by another for-profit institution, National College, which operates campuses in Kentucky and five other states.

National and Spencerian are among the institutions now under investigation by the attorney general’s office for possible violations of consumer-fraud laws in student recruiting. Officials at both colleges have also held events for Mr. Conway’s Republican opponent, Todd P’Pool. It was National’s event, held on August 25, that appears to have prompted its inclusion in the special prosecutor’s probe. National officials insist Mr. P’Pool’s appearance at a Lexington campus was "simply a visit by a public figure; it was in no way a ‘fund raiser’ and neither funds nor votes were solicited by anyone."

Executives of both college companies have also been vocal critics of Mr. Conway’s investigation, with Sullivan’s namesake co-founder, A.R. Sullivan, calling it a "re-election sham," according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities has also gotten into the fray. This spring the association wrote a letter to Mr. Conway objecting to his mention of the for-profit college investigation in his political fund-raising appeals.

An association spokesman declined to provide The Chronicle with a copy of the letter, saying, "Unfortunately, I cannot share it with you." A spokeswoman for Mr. Conway’s office said the letter was "part of an investigative file and unable to be shared."

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THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION

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