Virginia Democratic Chairman Criticized Over Lobbying Ties to For-profit Colleges

Brian Moran, the newly elected chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, is taking heat from the party’s rank and file over his day job — a lobbyist representing for-profit colleges that are coming under increased criticism for leaving students with massive federal student loans they can’t repay.

Moran, a former state delegate and candidate for governor, is now executive vice president for government relations and general counsel for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, whose members, including the Washington Post-owned Kaplan Higher Education Corp., face heightened criticism for drawing nearly 90 percent of their funding from federal education programs and for saddling students with massive amounts of debt and poor job placement.

Among Moran’s critics is former state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman, who said for-profit colleges are as much a threat to students as subprime mortgage lenders were to homeowners.

"This is the subprime mortgage debacle, higher ed division," he said. "This is going to go badly if it continues, for a lot of people. You cannot do this and continue to maintain your moral authority."

An investigation of for-profit colleges by the Government Accountability Office found widespread deceptive marketing practices and students who were misled about the schools’ accreditation and about their own job prospects after graduation.

The investigation also found that, after years of study, students were often unable to find jobs with salaries sufficient to pay off the debts they had incurred, leading to massive defaults on federal loans. Kaplan suspended enrollment of new students at two of its schools after the report was released.

Goldman also noted that Moran is helping the for-profit groups counter reforms being pushed by President Obama, who carried Virginia in 2008 and hopes to do so again in 2012.

"It starts with the fact that you have a Democratic chairman lobbying against the president of the United States," said Goldman, an adviser to former Gov. Doug Wilder. "That is pretty much unprecedented."

Moran’s critics aren’t upset that he’s a lobbyist. They’re upset about his choice of clients.
Lowell Feld, founder and editor of the progressive blog Blue Virginia, said that if Moran were lobbying for an environmental group or an abortion-rights group, there wouldn’t be such outrage.

"Would Republicans hire as their state party chairman someone who lobbied for … an anti-gun group or a pro-choice group?" he said. "In my opinion, this industry is pretty much indefensible."

Moran defended the for-profit colleges’ goals as "very consistent" with Democratic Party values.
"Clearly, we have our critics, but it’s nonsense," Moran said. "To be competitive in the current economy, a degree beyond high school is important, and that is what we are providing to these" students.

Moran does have his defenders within the party.

"I absolutely do not see a conflict whatsoever," 4th Congressional District Chairwoman Susan Rowland said. "He’s just the chairman; he’s not a dictator."


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