December 11, 2011

Snowe casts 'present' vote to go 'extra mile' on ethics

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — The for-profit college company chaired by her husband, former GOP Maine Gov. John McKernan, was a political flashpoint last week for Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Snowe said in an interview Friday that her "present" vote Thursday on President Obama's nominee to head a new consumer protection bureau shows she goes "the extra mile" to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest involving Education Management, which has more than 100 schools in 32 states, none of them in Maine.

The Democrats seeking Snowe's seat in next year's U.S. Senate race, former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town and state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, criticized the "present" vote as anti-consumer.

Snowe says she still agrees with most fellow GOP senators, nearly all of whom voted to block the nomination of Richard Cordray, that no nominee for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be confirmed until changes are made in the bureau's structure. And she doesn't see any conflict with having voted for the legislation that created the bureau in the first place.

But Snowe said she decided to abstain from a "no" vote on Cordray's nomination when she learned a charge was made Thursday on the Senate floor that not having a director in place would keep the new bureau from using all its powers over a number of financial institutions, including private student loan companies. Education Management gets a lot of revenue from student loans.

"I said, 'Whoa wait a minute, I am going to take the extra mile,'" Snowe said. "If there is such a perception I don't want to be viewed as having any potential conflict."

Snowe noted she was one of just three Republicans to vote for the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul bill that included creation of the bureau.

"This was a tough, tough bill that became law on managing consumer practices, including this bureau," Snowe said. "If I abstained, then there could be a question that I didn't want to regulate the industry. I would get it coming and going."

There also was a development last week in a lawsuit against Education Management.

The lawsuit launched by two former employees, with the Department of Justice as an intervenor, alleges that Education Management improperly compensated recruiters to enroll students and obtain $11 billion in federal and state student aid.

Education Management has said the charges are baseless and asked a federal court in Pittsburgh to dismiss the lawsuit.

But last week the federal government filed a motion alleging the company's "unlawful compensation scheme emanates from the highest levels of the corporation and represents a conscious effort to do exactly what" federal regulations prohibit in terms of providing bonuses to recruiters, reported Bloomberg.

One of Snowe's GOP primary rivals, Scott D'Amboise of Lisbon Falls, earlier this year called on Snowe to resign over the lawsuit's allegations.

Snowe said then that neither she nor her husband had done anything wrong and charged D'Amboise with running a "libelous" smear campaign. Snowe also said she had no involvement with the company.

REMAINING IN LIBYA

The campaign to bring home the remains of the Navy officer from Maine who died in 1804 aboard the Intrepid may be running aground again.

Maine's senators and other lawmakers were unable to get the repatriation of the Mainer and 12 other sailors into a defense bill passed by the Senate.

Their support failed to shake the opposition of the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain of Arizona, who sources say blocked the amendment from being in the final Senate bill.

The Intrepid tried to sneak into Tripoli's harbor during the First Barbary War and blow up pirate ships that were attacking U.S. merchant vessels, but all 13 aboard were killed and washed ashore.

Wadsworth, the uncle and namesake of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was second-in-command on the ship.

The Navy insists the final resting place of the sailors is their burial ground in Libya.

The repatriation provision is in the House version of the bill.

Snowe and 10 other senators wrote a letter to the four lawmakers on the House-Senate conference committee working on reconciling the two versions, urging that the final measure include the repatriation.

It would cost from $85,000 to $100,000 and not be carried out until the Defense Department determines that Libya is safe, the letter says.

One problem: McCain is on the conference committee.

Good luck with that.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC.

 

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