- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brian Moran is in an awkward position.

As head of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA), he is working to retain a narrow majority in the state Senate this fall and to re-elect a Democratic president next year in a swing state.

But as acting head of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), his group is directly at odds with the Obama administration, which is trying to push new regulations on for-profit colleges.

Mr. Moran’s group last week filed suit against the Obama administration. And it’s making some state Democrats uncomfortable.

“It strikes me as very odd that the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia could even promote the for-profit college sector,” said party activist Dan Sullivan. “If he’s with the organization, he’s going to sue. It just doesn’t fit with him being the chairman of the DPVA.”

Former Arlington Democratic Committee Chairman Peter Rousselot, who Mr. Moran defeated to win the state party chairmanship last fall, said he thought Mr. Moran should resign from one job or the other, given the apparent conflict of interest.

The APSCU, according to its website, is a voluntary membership organization of accredited, private, postsecondary schools that “provide career-specific educational programs” — a sector that has drawn fire recently amid charges that for-profit schools graduate students who default on their loans at a high rate.

Under federal regulations introduced in June, a program would lead to “gainful employment” if at least 35 percent of former students are repaying their loans, the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 30 percent of his or her discretionary income, or the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 12 percent of his or her total earnings.

“Our regulations offer students and taxpayers the protection they deserve,” said Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton. “These student safeguards rest on a sound legal foundation.”

But the APSCU, which claims having more than 1,800 members that educate and support almost 2 million students each year, charges that the regulations overreach and could limit access to education from those who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend college.

In a statement to The Washington Times, Mr. Moran — a former state delegate and 2009 candidate for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination, whose brother Rep. James P. Moran represents Northern Virginia in Congress — defended his role with the APSCU and denied any conflict of interest.

“Career colleges are doing an excellent job to help President Obama meet his 2020 goal of dramatically increasing the number of U.S. college graduates, so that America leads the world in the educational level of its citizens,” Mr. Moran said. “My work with the career-college sector by no means undermines my beliefs in the Democratic Party’s principles or its mission in Virginia.”

While Mr. Moran’s dual roles could seem ripe for the picking for Republicans, the new regulations have also drawn fire from Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said they run counter to Mr. Obama’s recent pledge to combat “regulatory overreach.” The National Black Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Leadership Fund has also criticized the regulations.

The issue has prompted states to pass their own regulations on the industry and encouraged investigations from state attorneys general.

Mr. Moran’s group also sued the Education Department in January when Harris Miller, who lost the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate to Jim Webb in 2006, was still in charge. Mr. Miller left his post in June, leaving Mr. Moran as the organization’s interim CEO.

Some Virginia Democrats downplayed the issue.

“I’m comfortable with the fact that he’s the kind of guy who’s going to try to fix the things in that industry,” said state Sen. Dave Marsden, Fairfax Democrat. “I’d rather have Brian Moran there trying to fix it, rather than a lot of other people.”

One state central committee member, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely on the subject, said that the opposition to Mr. Moran is confined to a very small segment of the party and is a nonissue within the vast majority of the state party structure.

“If you really look at the opposition to Brian Moran, and the ones who are really making the most noise about this is a handful of people that one could describe as ‘limousine liberals,’ who, in fact, are not part of the party structure, and in the last election supported Brian Moran’s opponent,” the member said.

Another member of the party’s state central committee, who also asked not to be named, disagreed and said Mr. Moran’s dual roles “seem to be creating an appearance of conflict — and in politics, that’s all it takes.”

The member added, however, that many people probably aren’t aware of what Mr. Moran does for a living.

“I don’t think most Democrats know, to be honest with you.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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