Former Congressman Vin Weber (R-MN) is an advisor to the unofficial presidential campaign of Jeb Bush, as both Weber and the Bush camp have confirmed. Weber recently told Fox News, "I think that Governor Bush is right on track in terms of how he's been thinking about this potential race and when he needs to get into it and what needs to happen."
But Weber is much more than a Bush campaign advisor. He's a lobbyist who has pressed his former colleagues in Congress on behalf of clients like AT&T, the pharmaceutical trade association PHRMA, student loan giant Sallie Mae, and student debt collection companies Navient and ECMC.
Weber has also served, since 1994, on the board of directors of ITT Educational Services, one of the biggest for-profit college companies. Today the Securities and Exchange Commission sued ITT, its former CEO, and former CFO, charging that the company "made various false and misleading statements and omissions to defraud ITT's investors by concealing the extraordinary failure" of its student loan programs.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has sued ITT, charging in a 2014 complaint that "ITT subjected consumers to undue influence or coerced them into taking out ITT Private Loans through a variety of unfair acts and practices designed to interfere with the consumers' ability to make informed, uncoerced choices." The attorney general of New Mexico has sued ITT for alleged "unfair, deceptive, and unconscionable acts and practices ... in connection with the advertising, marketing, and selling of educational services." 12 more state attorneys general -- from Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington -- are jointly investigating ITT.
ITT denies it has done anything wrong and is contesting the charges.
For me personally, ITT is not just another predatory for-profit college company under investigation by law enforcement. It was because of ITT that I decided to stay with this issue until there were serious policy changes to protect students and taxpayers and hold bad schools accountable. Or rather, it was because of a former ITT employee named Rashidah Smallwood, who connected with the organization I ran at the time, Campus Progress, and came to Washington to tell her story.
Smallwood spoke at a 2011 event we held on Capitol Hill, and she explained that she was fired as a financial aid administrator at ITT Tech in Texas after refusing to cooperate in a scheme to advise students to submit fraudulent forms in order to maximize federal aid dollars flowing to the school. Smallwood said she was "deeply disturbed" by what was happening at ITT Tech. You can watch Smallwood tell about it:
My colleagues and I took Rashidah Smallwood around to Senate and House offices, trying to find Members and staff who would listen to her account. A few staff opened their doors. Smallwood was composed, respectful, articulate, and very clear that she had been at place where wrongdoing occurred, and she could take it no longer.
In the four years since, I have spoken to scores of industry employees -- recruiters, instructors, administrators, librarians, counselors -- who expressed similar distress and disgust at being party to predatory and abusive activities. But Rashidah Smallwood of ITT is where it really started for me, and I will never forget her honesty, poise, determination, and moral purpose.
If ITT troubled Rashidah Smallwood, however, Vin Weber's service on the ITT board may not bother Jeb Bush. Last year, Bush appeared in Las Vegas at the annual convention of the for-profit colleges lobby group, APSCU, and he denounced the Obama administration's "gainful employment" rule, which is aimed at holding career education programs at schools like ITT accountable for consistently leaving graduates with insurmountable debt. Bush said that the assembled for-profit college executives that the regulations "are a sledgehammer to the entire field of higher education."
This article also appears on Republic Report .