Former Obama Aide Lobbied for The Washington Post

January 4, 2012 06:19

You may remember Dunn as the Obama aide who once said communist mass murderer Mao and Mother Teresa were “two of my favorite political philosophers.”


By Cliff Kincaid


When Anita Dunn hasn’t been on CNN or MSNBC bashing the Republican presidential candidates and/or praising President Obama, she has been successfully lobbying for a Washington Post subsidiary by the name of Kaplan University.


You may remember Dunn as the Obama aide who once said communist mass murderer Mao and Mother Teresa were “two of my favorite political philosophers.” The Soros-funded Media Matters said she was taken out of context.

Dunn is now claiming that she is not a lobbyist, even though she works for a firm that does lobbying. Will the progressives defend this, too?


We have written in the past about Kaplan, which is the cash cow for the Post Company, whose newspaper has been losing money and readers. Steven Pearlstein of the Post wrote that Kaplan “has provided the handsome profits that have helped to cover this newspaper’s operating losses” and that “Although we in the Post newsroom have nothing to do with Kaplan, we’ve all benefited from its financial success.”


But that success came at the expense of students, including veterans, who got educated through Kaplan and found that some of their degrees were worthless.


After congressional investigations exposed abuses in the $30 billion for-profit education industry, Kaplan and other companies got very concerned that proposed regulations from the Obama Administration would potentially “cut off the huge flow of federal aid” to private sector colleges declared unfit to receive the money, The New York Times reported.


In the end, “after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect” this year.


Former Obama official Dunn played a key role in making sure the for-profit education companies will continue largely with business as usual.


Military columnist Tom Philpott, a former Coast Guardsman, has led the criticism of what he calls the “predatory for-profit schools” that “rob veterans of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.” He quotes Theodore (Ted) L. Daywalt, chief executive officer and president of VetJobs, an online job search firm for military veterans, as saying that he learned about the problem through working with disappointed vets who thought they had used their GI Bill to earn credible degrees only to learn they were “worthless.”


“The eighth for-profit company among the top 10 institutions getting GI Bill payments is Kaplan, owned by The Washington Post. Its Post-9/11 GI Bill payments climbed in 12 months from $17 million to $44 million,” noted Philpott. These are the payments that help pay the salaries of the liberal editorial writers and columnists at the Post newspaper.


In a sign that some news competition is in play among the big papers and that some criticism of the Obama Administration is still permitted in print, the Times noted the key role played by Dunn, “a close friend of President Obama and his former White House communications director.” She had “worked with” Kaplan, the paper said. “And politically well-connected investors, including Donald E. Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Company, which owns Kaplan, and John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and a longtime friend of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made impassioned appeals,” the paper added.


Dunn had left the Obama Administration to make money at SKDKnickerbocker (SKDK), which describes itself as “a nationally recognized strategic communications consulting firm.” This is what lobbying is called these days. Dunn’s work in the media is highlighted in her bio, where she is described as “a frequent guest on cable and network television, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 60 Minutes, Today, Meet the Press and many more.”


Stephen Burd, a writer for The Quick and the Ed, a blog published by Education Sector, was intrigued by the Times story about the lobbying for Kaplan and wrote, “When executives at Kaplan University were looking for an Obama insider to help fight the administration’s efforts to rein in the for-profit higher education industry, they scored a major coup. They landed Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director and FOO (friend of Obama).”


But Burd was intrigued by the claim that Dunn is not a lobbyist. He asked, “…how does Dunn reconcile the role she played in this fight with rules that President Obama put in place to stop the revolving door between executive branch officials and lobbing [sic] firms from spinning. [Under an executive order that the President issued on his first full day in office, administration officials are barred from lobbying their former colleagues.] Simple: she claims that she did not engage in lobbying.”


The claim that Dunn was not a lobbyist was included in the Times story, which said, “While Ms. Dunn visited the White House about 80 times since leaving the administration, she said she was careful to avoid talking to former colleagues about the issue because she is not a lobbyist and such conduct would violate the ethics policies put in place by Mr. Obama regarding lobbying by former advisers.”


The Times didn’t raise an eyebrow. But Burd didn’t buy it: “Not a lobbyist, really? Let’s review: Dunn traded in on her White House experience to land the lucrative job of helping develop strategy and messaging for an industry that was under fire from the very same administration she had served. Perhaps I’m missing something, but that seems like the very definition of how the revolving door works. Sure, Dunn may not be a registered lobbyist. But that is the type of distinction that has made so many cynical about how our government works.”


Clearly, it is lobbying, registered or not.


In addition to her lobbying for The Washington Post, she continues working for the Obama Administration, in an unofficial capacity.


On December 11, Dunn appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to denounce various Republican candidates for president. On MSNBC on September 8, she said that Obama “will challenge this nation to basically hold their leaders accountable for putting the interests of the people—getting them back to work, getting this economy growing again—ahead of the partisan political interests that are dominating Washington.”


Only a paid lobbyist for the liberal-left would make such a laughable claim on national television. It was during this time that she was lobbying for Kaplan against the interests of students and veterans.


But lobbying is where the money is. Last October Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s director of public affairs, Jill Zuckman, moved to SKDK. She is a former political reporter for the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe.


At SKDKnickerbocker, she also touts her journalistic credentials. “As a reporter, Jill was a frequent presence on television and radio, providing political analysis on MSNBC’s Hardball, CNN, Fox and NPR’s Diane Rehm Show,” her bio states.


It’s called cashing in on political and media connections. And it’s all done in the name of “the people” and the 99 percent.


Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at

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