Sallie Mae: Buying Political Influence at What Cost?
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Sallie Mae spends considerable resources, staff time and capital trying to influence politicians and regulators, and they’re doing it at the expense of students.
Sallie Mae’s lobbying efforts were recently described by The New York Times as “aggressive”i spending $37,490,000 on lobbying from 1998 to 2012.ii This year, Sallie Mae has already spent $1,230,000 on federal lobbying, working against several consumer protection bills, including the Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2013 and Fairness for Struggling Students Act of 2013.iii Both pieces of legislation call for increased regulation of private banks with a history of bad lending practices.
Sallie Mae’s involvement in the political money game doesn’t end with lobbying. The company spent $5,969,322 on political contributions from 1992 to 2012. During the 2012 campaign cycle, Sallie Mae gave more to House Speaker John Boehner — $92,000 total — than to any other candidate. In fact, Sallie Mae has a long history of courting Speaker Boehner, the former Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce: from 1989 to 2012, they gave $163,250iv to his campaigns directly, making them the Speaker’s fourth largest contributor of all time. While Boehner served as committee chair, Sallie Mae spearheaded the lobbying around the Bankruptcy Act of 2005, which stripped student loan borrowers of their ability to discharge their student debt.v
Despite this history of buying influence, Sallie Mae has made a continued effort to hide its political spending under the guise of charity. Following the most recent IRS scandal, Sallie Mae was included on a list published in The Nation of “Five 501(c)(4) Groups That Might Have Broken the Law.” The article pointed to Sallie Mae’s involvement in the “American Action Network” an alleged “non-profit” whose political spending accounted for 66.8% of its budget, well over the legally allowed 49%.vi Sallie Mae lobbyist Vin Weber, who helps run American Action Network, which helped fund the election politicians like Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin, who voted three times to double the Stafford Loan interest rate in 2012.vii
In addition to lobbying and political giving, Sallie Mae also belongs to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).viii ALEC has been widely criticized for promoting controversial legislation such as voter ID laws,ix “right-to work” laws, and pro-gun “stand your ground” laws , while additionally pushing for laws that hurt the funding of public colleges and universities, such as “Resolution in Support of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.” It faced widespread public attention and criticism in 2012, when hundreds of corporations ended their ties with ALEC — the same year that Sallie Mae joined the extremist group.x
The numbers speak for themselves: for a company that claims to make borrowers’ education dreams a reality, Sallie Mae spends an incredible amount of money buying the political access and influence necessary to protect its own bottom line.
For more information, contact Ori Korin at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Hicks at email@example.com. Learn more about Sallie Mae and get involved in efforts to end student debt here: http://www.jwj.org/end-student-debt
i“Lobbying Imperils Overhaul of Student Loans”: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/05/us/politics/05loans.html?pagewantehttp://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.php?cycle=Career&type=I&cid=N00003675&newMem=N&recs=20d=all&_r=0