When executives at Kaplan University were looking for an Obama insider to help fight the administration’s efforts to rein in the for-profit higher education industry, they scored a major coup. They landed Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director and FOO (friend of Obama).
Dunn’s ties to President Obama date back to 2006, when the then-Senator hired her to be in charge of communications and strategy for his political action committee. In that role, she helped lay the groundwork for his presidential run. Dunn then served as a top adviser to Obama during the 2008 campaign and for most of his first year in office. Meanwhile, her husband Robert Bauer is the president’s personal attorney and served as White House Counsel from December 2009 to June 2011. He is now the top lawyer on Obama’s reelection campaign.
Judging from an article that ran in The New York Times this weekend on for-profit college lobbying, Kaplan got its money’s worth. As a consultant for the giant for-profit college company, Dunn “played a key role in helping shape” the industry’s “message” in opposing the administration’s proposed “Gainful Employment Rule,” which aimed to shut down for-profit school programs that leave students buried in debt but without the training they have been promised, the newspaper reports.
According to the Times, she pushed the schools to try and get administration officials to “blunt the impact” of the proposed rule, rather than pressuring them to kill it – which she believed to be a political non-starter. This turned out to be a winning strategy as the final regulation, which the Department issued in June, was substantially weaker than the original version.
But how does Dunn reconcile the role she played in this fight with rules that President Obama put in place to stop the revolving door between executive branch officials and lobbing firms from spinning. [Under an executive order that the president issued on his first full day in office, administration officials are barred from lobbying their former colleagues.] Simple: she claims that she did not engage in lobbying. According to the article:
While Ms. Dunn visited the White House about 80 times since leaving the administration, she said she was careful to avoid talking to former colleagues about the issue because she is not a lobbyist and such conduct would violate the ethics policies put in place by Mr. Obama regarding lobbying by former advisers.
Not a lobbyist, really? Let’s review: Dunn traded in on her White House experience to land the lucrative job of helping develop strategy and messaging for an industry that was under fire from the very same administration she had served. Perhaps I’m missing something, but that seems like the very definition of how the revolving door works.
Sure, Dunn may not be a registered lobbyist. But that is the type of distinction that has made so many cynical about how our government works.