University Gives to Glendening
By Charles Babington
Why would Apollo Group Inc., based in Phoenix, care enough about the Maryland governor's race to send $2,000 to Parris N. Glendening in 1994 and $2,500 more as the governor seeks reelection this fall?
Because its subsidiary the University of Phoenix, the nation's largest for-profit college was angling to open shop in Maryland, where it would need the approval of a commission appointed by the governor.
State officials say the campaign contributions made no difference when the Maryland Higher Education Commission approved Apollo's application last March. The commission overrode strong objections from many state universities and community colleges.
Still, the Apollo story illustrates how corporations and candidates often come together in Maryland. The donations didn't clinch the commission's vote, an Apollo Group spokesman said, but they are part of the political game that can open doors in an unfamiliar state.
"It doesn't affect the decision," said Charles Seigel, an Apollo vice president. "It affects the ability to get to talk to people."
Seigel was previously active in Maryland Democratic politics, having worked for Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). Seigel said a friend, whom he declined to identify, invited him to a Glendening fund-raiser on Sept. 27, 1994, hosted by friends of running mate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and attended by John F. Kennedy Jr. Seigel donated $2,000 on behalf of Apollo and told Glendening then the Democratic gubernatorial nominee that his company was contemplating a possible expansion into Maryland, among other states.
"I discussed it briefly with him then," Seigel said. "He told me he was open" to the philosophy of the University of Phoenix, which has grown rapidly by catering to older students with full-time jobs.
Last year, Apollo hired two of Annapolis's best-known lobbyists: Joel Rozner, a former top aide to Glendening, and Gerard E. Evans, a major fund-raiser for Glendening and other Democrats. On Sept. 4, 1997, Apollo formally applied to the Maryland Higher Education Commission for permission to operate in the state. Three months later, Apollo gave $2,500 to Glendening's reelection campaign.
The higher education commission is appointed by the governor and significantly influenced by Patricia S. Florestano, a longtime friend of Glendening's whom the governor named state secretary of higher education. Leaders of 11 colleges and universities in the state urged Florestano and the commission to reject Phoenix, arguing that it would rob them of students.
Florestano said she told staff members reviewing the application process to "take extra care" and "not cut any corners." In the end, she said, Phoenix clearly was qualified to offer certain courses and degrees on three campuses in Maryland. She said that with so many schools and students now using "distance learning," a Phoenix specialty that relies heavily on computers, the state colleges' objections were unsupportable.
Florestano said she had been unaware of Apollo's campaign contributions to Glendening. Merit, not politics, she said, led to the March decision to grant the application of Phoenix, which hopes to begin classes early next year.
At one point during the application process, she said, Glendening asked her for a progress report.
"He asked me what was happening on it, I briefed him and that was it," Florestano said. She said there was no pressure from Glendening or anyone else to approve the application.
Glendening said the University of Phoenix is just one of many colleges that back him because of his interest in expanding education opportunities and spending. "Higher education across the board has supported us," he said.
Rozner said Apollo gave money to Glendening because the governor supports wider access to education. "If they called and asked me if they should [contribute], I would say, 'Sure, yeah,'" Rozner said. "It had nothing to do with their pending application."
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