Last August, while Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was in the midst of an intensive round of fundraising for her 2012 reelection bid, a four-year-old civil lawsuit alleging fraud by an education company in which she and her husband are heavily invested became public.
Nationally, most of the coverage of Snowe's decision to drop her reelection bid has focused on the centrist Republican's frustration with the polarized politics on Capitol Hill. But in Maine, a few newspapers have speculated that her husband's legal entanglements had a role in Snowe's sudden and surprising decision, which left her with more than $3 million in her campaign coffers and her party without a Senate candidate less than three weeks before the filing deadline for Maine's June 12 primary.
According to the senator's most recent financial disclosure form, she and her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan Jr., have investments worth between $2 million and $10 million in Education Management Corp., a Pittsburgh-based company that operates for-profit higher education institutions. McKernan is chairman of the board of directors of the company, now embroiled in a lawsuit in which the federal goverment, 11 states and the District of Columbia are seeking to recover a portion of the $11 billion in federal student aid that the education firm has received since July 2003.
Originally filed in April 2007 by a pair of whistleblowers, the lawsuit alleges that the company violated a federal law that prohibits schools from paying admissions officers based on the number of students they recruit and enroll. [Note: This is one of the illegal practices I saw where I worked. I found out after that my company was previously cited for this and was operating under a federal compliance order. Didn't matter, they did what they wanted.] Those numbers can affect a school's revenues because more students mean a school is potentially eligible for more federal aid dollars. The whistleblowers alleged, and provided documents indicating, that they were paid bounties for the number of students they enrolled.