When asked about his plan for higher education, Mitt Romney has taken to endorsing the for-profit higher education industry, even singling out a specific college business, Full Sail University. When speaking with a local newspaper before the Iowa caucus, he volunteered Full Sail and other for-profit colleges as an answer to the rising costs of college tuition. He has also suggested Full Sail when speaking to college students in both New Hampshire and Ohio.
Full Sail, like many for-profit colleges, is an odd choice for a conservative. These schools depend on billions in taxpayer aid, much of it wasted on advertisements and bonuses for executives. And as many have demonstrated, companies like Full Sail have a less than stellar track record when it comes to future employment and debt for their students.
As the New York Times pointed out, Full Sail is owned by a private equity firm called TA Associates, which is run by C. Kevin Landry, a major donor to Mitt Romney’s super PAC. According to Bloomberg News, Landry has now given $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC blanketing the airwaves in Republican primary states.
But what hasn’t been reported until now is the Romney family business connection to Full Sail. In 2008, Mitt Romney’s oldest son Tagg founded Solamere Capital, a “fund of fund” investment company that offered clients the unique opportunity to co-invest with an elite set of private equity firms. Many of the private equity firms connected to Solamere, it turns out, are prominent political allies of Tagg’s father. The line between business and politics becomes even more hazy given the fact that Mitt Romney and his wife provided a $10 million investment with Tagg’s firm, and Romney’s top campaign fundraising operative, Spencer Zwick, doubles as an executive with Solamere.
On a prospectus of Solamere Capital, obtained by the Boston Globe, Tagg indicated that his clients would have a chance to invest with companies owned by TA Associates, the firm that owns Full Sail.
Of course, TA Associates owns other businesses, and it’s possible Tagg’s clients are co-investing with TA Associates on deals unrelated to Full Sail. TA Associates, however, appears to be expanding into the for-profit college industry. Last year, TA Associates completed deals to help create two new for-profit school companies: The Rocky Mountain School of Design in Colorado and the Los Angeles Film School in California. Mitt Romney’s recent decision to embrace for-profit colleges may mean more taxpayer money for companies like the Los Angeles Film School.
The complex web of relationships between Full Sail’s owners and Tagg Romney’s investment business with TA Associates presents a conflict of interest for the presidential candidate. Is Mitt Romney promoting a greater degree of taxpayer money to an industry because of his family’s connection to it? Will investors with Tagg’s firm and donors to Romney’s super PAC be given preferential treatment in a Romney administration?
What is known is that Romney has received between $100,000 and $1 million in returns from his stake in the investment company that is partnered with TA Associates, a private equity firm that is getting rich of for-profit universities — while Romney on the campaign trail has touted for-profit education as the future.
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