Sallie's Shenanigans

Sallie Mae, the nation's largest federal student-loan financier, is quite shrewd when it comes to using plenty of money to influence legislation on Capitol Hill.

It is not alone: Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that student loan and related industry officials contributed mightily (almost $1 million) to many of the 49 members serving on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Why? They're responsible for laws governing federal student loans.

Sallie Mae, no surprise, was the largest donor to those members, giving some $185,000 over the past 18 months.

Much is at stake. In May, the House introduced legislation to renew the 1977 Higher Education Act, which will determine how student loans can be constructed over the next 10 years.

Sallie and others in the student-loan business want Congress to change the way students can combine and refinance loans. So far, they've gotten their way. If the current re authorization bill passes, for instance, students won't be able to lock in low-interest 30-year rates as they can now. With variable rates, loan consolidation programs wouldn't be as attractive to borrowers.

Sallie Mae and other big banks have lost student loans to companies that specialize in refinancing. Those companies have fought back with political contributions to the same members of Congress, to the tune of $104,000, mostly to Republicans.

Whose dollars will hold sway? Stay tuned. The bill is stalled over partisan bickering. But when the money flow to politicians can be so clearly connected to the development of this education bill, the need for voters to better hold politicians accountable - and for politicians to avoid even the appearance of being bought off - is plain.

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