As Hillary Slams Trump University, Right Wingers Go After Bill for Making Millions From For-Profit Laureate Universities
A clear and clean line of attack gets muddied.
By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet
June 3, 2016
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has ramped up its attacks this week on Donald Trump, citing how Trump University preyed on students and left many in debt. Now, right-wing websites are citing the Clinton’s 2014 tax returns showing the ex-president made $16.5 million from Laureate International Universities, which has been criticized for overpromising to students.
“Don’t get us wrong, we already knew Trump University was a massive scam and nothing close to an actual school,” said a Clinton campaign release on Friday. “But this week, thanks to newly unsealed court documents, we learned just how big of a scam Trump U actually was. Preying on the elderly, encouraging potential customers to max out credit cards and drain their savings, and making trumped up promises about how to profit off of the housing crisis, Trump University was, as one of its former employees so aptly put it, a ‘fraudulent scheme’ and a ‘total lie.’”
Meanwhile, the top story on Breitbart.com was titled, “Hillary University: Bill Clinton Bagged $16.46 Million from For-Profit College as State Dept. Funneled $55 Million Back.” Among other things, it pointed out that buried in the fine print of the Clintons’ federal tax returns released last summer was the $16.5 million from Laureate for Bill Clinton between 2010 and 2014. The for-profit university is not well known in the U.S. but has campuses in many countries “exporting many of the practices that for-profit colleges adopted in the United States, such as offering career-oriented courses and spending heavily on marketing,” theWashington Post said in 2014.
While these kinds of call-and-response attacks are regular features of political campaigns and are intended to disgust a public that isn’t interested in the details, they do underscore the likely nature of the rest of the 2016 season, especially if Hillary Clinton is the nominee. The biggest question is, to what extent is Bill Clinton’s post-presidential legacy going to hamper Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. As Bloomberg News, which is far more responsible and even-handed than Breitbart, reported in April 2015, “As his wife begins criticizing the industry, the former president ends a five-year term as honorary chancellor of Laureate International Universities.”
Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Epstein wrote, “While the company is regarded as one of the better actors in the industry, it is part of a sector that has faced scrutiny for aggressive recruiting practices and for leaving students with unmanageable debt loads. The Obama administration has imposed new policies aimed at tightening oversight of the industry, and Hillary Clinton has indicated that she would be tough on for-profit colleges if elected president.”
In a subsequent piece last July, Epstein looked at the Clintons’ last tax returns and reported that the couple made $139 million in the past eight years, paid $43 million in taxes and gave more than 10 percent of their income to charities, mostly via the Clinton Foundation. Each Clinton created a limited liability corporation for their speaking fees and other income and Bill Clinton also earned money from other overseas education ventures.
“Since 2010, Bill Clinton brought in just short of $16.5 million for his role as honorary chancellor of Laureate Education, a for-profit college company. He left the position earlier this year weeks after his wife launched her campaign,” Epstein wrote. “In 2014, Bill Clinton made $9 million off of paid speeches and $6.4 million in consulting fees. Of that, $4.3 million came from Laureate and another $2.1 million from GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company that runs preschool and K-12 programs. He made less from those two gigs in previous years—$5.6 million in 2013 and $4.7 million in 2012.”
Why are we hearing about this now? For many reasons. The ongoing lawsuits and release of related pre-trial documents against Trump University are a legitimate look into the mind and the business practices of the Republican presidential nominee. Trump’s defenders in right-wing media are using a seemingly parallel example of Bill Clinton’s involvement with privatized education to muddy the waters and suggest that the Clintons are being hypocritical to attack Trump for an exploitive venture. The problem is not just that this is a false equivalency; it suggests that the Clintons’ private-life business decisions, especially the former president’s, are going to dog Hillary’s presidential campaign. It certainly will not help Hillary Clinton convince undecided voters that she’s committed to reining in for-profit education when her husband has made millions from it.
Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).