Once again, the overzealous young Obama administration is pushing politics too far into the federal agencies where it is supposed to be forbidden, this time at the Department of Education.
The Obama White House first became known for reckless political tactics when the National Endowment for the Arts used several conference calls dragoon artists into promoting specific administration policies. A recent article by Doug Lederman from the web site Inside Higher Ed, reveals that the administration continues the conference call politics.
This time, the call appears to have encouraged lobbying on a specific pending bill - a move that may violate federal law according to a transcript of a call obtained by The Washington Times. A number of individuals and groups were on the October 2 call including: Education Department officials, Second Lady Jill Biden, and presidents from 80 community colleges. Inside Higher Ed’s Mr. Leder, who was on the call, writes:
“The session and the stroking also had a subtle but plainly evident ulterior motive: letting an important constituency know that the administration very much needs its help as the White House pushes Congress to pass legislation to carry out a massive restructuring of the student aid programs that would, not coincidentally, pour $10 billion into community colleges.”
Recently passed by the House on September 17, H.R. 3221, otherwise known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), is the first step towards making the federal government the only provider of student loans while cutting out private lenders in the process.
The American Association of Community Colleges, a supporter of H.R. 3221 since July 21, 2009, is “Governed by a 32-member board of directors elected by the membership, AACC is a nonprofit organization whose overriding mission is to “Build a Nation of Learners by Advancing America’s Community Colleges.” The non-profit solicited the schools on the teleconference call that day. The Washington Times obtained a copy of the transcript of the call from the department.
Martha Kanter, Undersecretary of Education pretty clearly encourages the community college representatives to lobby congress if they want access to billions in new grants:
“And so your voice is critically needed in this process. And we hope you’ll join us as we walk through opportunities before us, the largest of which right now is H.R. 3221 known as the American Graduation Initiative … I think many of you know what’s in the bill. And we - it has passed through the House. It is in the Senate right now. And the Senate - we are waiting the Senate version to hopefully move this to completion. … The bulk of this effort is devoted to American higher education with a specific focus on community colleges … (The bill) will usher in new innovations and reforms for the community colleges to support what Dr. (Jill) Biden has talked about, 5 million more graduates with degrees and certificates from the community colleges by 2020. … There’ll also be about $2-1/2 billion in grants to leverage private sector funding for an estimated total of $10 billion in investments so that we will have funding to modernize community college facilities.”
Later in the conversation, Bob Shireman, the deputy undersecretary, backs up that point:
“The student loan reforms are critical to having the funding so that we can do that. But hopefully Congress will work with us to make that happen in the coming weeks. … You’ll - your students will get their Pell Grants and their student loans. But into the future we do need to make sure that we have cooperation from Congress in funding the levels that the President has proposed.”
Still later in the call, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach at the Department of Education, Massie Ritsch, encourages the community colleges to get involved again:
“I hope you can see that this department is committed to working with you on improving community colleges and developing new policies and new initiatives. We will need your voices, your honest feedback and your support to be successful in this endeavor.”
The 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Acts expressly prohibits department officials from asking others to lobby on behalf of the administration:
SEC. 503. (a) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress or any State legislature, except in presentation to the Congress or any State legislature itself.
Further it also appears to prohibit any grant fund being used to lobby.
(b) No part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used to pay the salary or expenses of any grant or contract recipient, or agent acting for such recipient, related to any activity designed to influence legislation or appropriations pending before the Congress or any State legislature.
While the Department of Education did not explicitly ask community college leaders to call their congressmen and lobby for the bill, it is clear that is exactly what the Obama administration political appointees were after. And that administration coordinated lobbying by the recipients of government money is exactly what Congress outlawed.