A Sun-Sentinel story published today on the conflict of interests involving state Rep. Jim Waldman and his role as general counsel for Keiser University was just a start. But it's a very good start that provides a damning portrait of Waldman's work.
Basically, the article by Sally Kestin and Scott Travis shows convincingly that Waldman was using the power -- and resources -- of his elected office to help his boss, Art Keiser, and Keiser's for-profit colleges.
Waldman, for instance, co-sponsored two pro-Keiser bills this year. He's also throwing his weight as a legislator around to try to influence state community colleges to back off Keiser in what amounts to a college turf war.
Forget that for-profit colleges are under fire for burying students under mountains of debt and poor graduation performance. The bottom line is that Waldman is dirty dancing on the legal line. It's clearly wrong what he is doing, but is it illegal?
I believe it is. Inside, see the case against Rep. Waldman.
Let's start with the rules. In Tallahassee, legislators are allowed to sponsor and vote on bills affecting their private interests so long as the proposed legislation isn't designed to help them alone.
In other words, a representative who works as a tomato farmer can vote on -- or even sponsor -- an agriculture bill that favors his farm so long as it helps all the other tomator farmers too. If it affects only his farm, though, that legislator obviously must abstain.
Waldman can claim that the work he's doing for Keiser in the state capitol is designed to help all for-profit colleges in the state, but here's the problem with that: It's clear that the work Waldman has done for Keiser in his capacity as a legislator has special value to Waldman and at times Waldman alone.You see, a businessman like Keiser who wants to get a bill sponsored in the Legislature would expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to get it done. But because Keiser has Waldman in the Legislature, he gets these things done automatically. Basically, every single thing Waldman does in his official capacity to help Keiser inures to Waldman's special private gain in his position as the lawyer for Keiser.
That's surely one reason Keiser's paying him nearly a quarter-million dollars a year. Any criminal investigation into this matter should determine if Waldman has been paid bonuses by Keiser as well; the timing might be interesting.
But there's more than just unlawful compensation or official misconduct that Waldman should be worried about. On July 29, Waldman made a call to the vice chancellor of the Division of Florida Colleges to ask her if she could stop a community college in Jacksonville to stop attacking against Keiser and other for-profit colleges.
Keiser and Florida State College in Jacksonville are in a turf war, essentially, that has led to Waldman filing a lawsuit against the college. That raises a whole set of issues unto itself -- a state rep is suing a state college? -- but the phone call is of particular interest.
There are federal laws about public officials throwing their titles around to get special favors. If Waldman even so much as made mention of his elected position during that call -- which was clearly done as part of his private job with Keiser -- he could be in serious trouble.
Waldman, as a lawyer, surely knows this. He told the Sentinel that he didn't mention his title of representative during the call with the chancellor.
But guess what? The chancellor, Judith Bilsky, told the newspaper that Waldman made "sure I understood he was Rep. Waldman." It seemed he got the message across, since Bilsky in a subsequent letter wrote that she has received a call from "Rep. Jim Waldman from the Florida House of Representatives."
Now, that may be a twofer. Not only is it a possible crime but it also appears to constitute a lie to the media. Way to go, Jim.
There's more: Waldman also sent a letter on his official House stationery to Florida community college presidents asking what effect federal legislation regarding for-profit colleges would have on their schools. He also had his legislative aide make a request on salary information from the Division of Florida Colleges.
Boy, did he get sloppy -- and he's pissed off a bunch of community college presidents in the process. They too appear to believe Waldman is using the power of his office to help his client. One of them, Guy York, told the newspaper: "In 36 years, I've never seen a request of this type come from an individual representative or senator. It's hard to make out what role [Waldman] was playing."
These are not the kinds of witnesses you want testifying at your corruption trial. I'm not saying that Waldman is guilty yet, but I know one thing: There must be a full, aggressive, and complete investigation into Jim Waldman and his work for Art Keiser. Starting now.