The Bank Lobbyist Behind Blanche Lincoln's "No" Vote on Reconciliation
Student loan lobbyist Kelly Bingel and Sen Blanche Lincoln. Their ties also extend beyond the professional sphere: Lincoln is the godmother of Bingel's son, according to this interview Bingel gave to her old sorority. Ironically, considering the matter at hand, Senator and lobbyist were brought together by their college ties. Lincoln and Bingel were both members of the same sorority, Chi Omega (at different schools, however). Here is the story, as told to Chi Omega, of how Bingel and Lincoln's sorority sisterhood brought them together in DC:
While I was there, my mother, who was living in Arkansas, sent me a newspaper clipping about a young woman who had just been elected to Congress after defeating a 24-year incumbent. The young woman – Blanche Lambert - was a Chi Omega. I remember talking on the phone with my mom saying, “I’d love to meet her!” Fortunately, one of the congressmen I had covered as a newspaper reporter recommended me to Blanche. The first thing she said when she saw my resume was, “Oh, she’s a Chi Omega!” In short, Chi Omega opened the door for me to work with the woman who would be an amazingly positive influence in my life and who would become – a decade later – my son’s godmother.All these ties have assured the student loan industry access to Sen. Lincoln, and likely swayed her to vote "no" on the reconciliation bill. Of course, the lenders paid Mehlman $150,000 last year for the privilege. Before the release of Money-Changers in the Senate, the Campaign for America's Future report on the student loan influence game, Bingel was not yet linked to the student lending lobby. This is perhaps due to the fact that the industry used quite a daisy chain of corporate shells to hire her on to the cause. Bingel works for Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, which was hired by the Law Offices of John Dean on behalf of an obscure group called the Student Loan Coalition. Who is the Student Loan Coalition? It's not entirely clear, but here's a clue: Dean's other major client is the Consumer Bankers Association, whose members include Citigroup, Chase, Wells Fargo, and a number of other student lenders. Meanwhile, Lincoln's current chief of staff, Elizabeth Hurley Burks, has strong ties to another student loan industry lobbyist: Jim Turner, formerly a Representative from Texas. Burks was Turner's chief of staff until 2005, and followed him to the lobbying firm Arnold & Porter before joining Lincoln's staff. Turner is now lobbying for Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corp, a student loan guarantor that is an associate member of the Consumer Bankers Association. Lincoln's ties to the student loan industry don't end there. Nebraska-based lender Nelnet only employs one lobbying firm, Avenue Solutions. There are three partners at Avenue, and one of them is Lincoln's former health policy adviser, Elizabeth Barnett. Avenue Solutions' three partners donated $10,300 to Lincoln in 2009, an average of over $3,000. And on top of all that, Sallie Mae's PAC maxed out to Lincoln's primary account in 2009. One of Lincoln's top donors, DNC vice chair Lottie Shackelford, is a Sallie Mae lobbyist. Arkansas isn't exactly a student loan origination boom state, so Lincoln can't say she's standing up for jobs (though that claim is a dubious one even for Senators from Sallie Mae's home state). Instead, she's talking about "transparency":
“This process that’s being used in reconciliation is a process that doesn’t have the transparency that I think Americans are crying out for,” Lincoln said, “and it doesn’t have the debate that shows the initiative of being thorough about how we do things.”The line is reminiscent of the loan industry critique of the reconciliation bill: that student loan reform is "buried" in the healthcare bill and that the legislation was not given proper consideration by the Senate. If Lincoln acted with even a modicum of transparency about how she arrived at her decision to oppose the reconciliation bill, she would disclose her recent contacts with Kelly Bingel and other industry lobbyists, as well as her recent campaign receipts from the industry. How illuminating it would be for a Senator to embrace transparency and say why they were taking such an unprincipled, impractical stand on behalf of moneyed interests, and against the interests of students in Arkansas. This post originally appeared on OurFuture.org.