For-Profit College that Donated to Ayotte Faces More Federal Scrutiny

Jul 12, 2016

Sen. Kelly Ayotte has returned $8,000 in campaign contributions from the political action committee of Bridgepoint Education, which is being investigated for improper practices.
Credit Chris Jenson

A for-profit college that has been a significant donor to Sen. Kelly Ayotte is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Bridgepoint Education, the parent company of Ashford University, an online university based in California, is the subject of investigations by several federal and state agencies. The company has been accused of improper use of federal student aid and duplicitous marketing practices – in particular, luring veterans to enroll in order to gain access to federal student aid through the GI Bill.

The company had been a significant contributor to Ayotte’s re-election effort, donating $8,000 to the Republican incumbent since last year. Ayotte’s campaign returned the money last week, after a report  by the Huffington Post that Bridgepoint was being investigated for its lending practices by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the justice departments in several states, including California. A lobbyist for BridgePoint was scheduled to co-host a fundraiser for Ayotte the day before the Huffington Post report.

The company has also been the subject of several Senate committee hearings into its practices, including one in 2011, Ayotte’s first year in Congress.

Bridgepoint revealed that it is being investigated by federal Justice officials in a corporate filing this week.

Ayotte said she was unaware of Bridgepoint’s record until publication of the Huffington Post story. But WMUR later reported that Ayotte presided over the U.S. Senate last year when the company’s alleged unethical practices were mentioned on the Senate floor.

Ayotte had also written a note to Bridgepoint’s political action committee, BridgePAC, last year, thanking it for the campaign donations.

Democrats, including the campaign of Gov. Maggie Hassan, who’s running for Ayotte’s seat this year, have sought to link Ayotte’s past support from Bridgepoint to her legislative record, including votes against proposed changes to consumer protection regulations.

In a statement Tuesday, Ayotte spokewoman Liz Johnson said: 

"This is a false charge being pushed by Governor Hassan, and it's ridiculous to suggest that Kelly would have known about the problems with this organization from a passing mention in a speech. Our campaign returned these contributions as soon as we knew about the problems with this organization, unlike Governor Hassan, who didn't return more than $30,000 in illegal donations until the Attorney General forced her to do so."