San Diego A key lobbyist for the parent company of Student Loan Xpress, that controversial student loan company founded by San Diegans Robert deRose and Fabrizio Balestri in 2002, used to work for GOP congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, now serving an eight-year federal prison term for bribery. According to a lobbyist registration statement filed with the House of Representatives, Education Lending Group, which recently merged with its subsidiary Student Loan Xpress, according to the company website, retained Erin Strawn and her firm, Stanton Park Group, in November 2005 to lobby for the "Re-Authorization of the Higher Education Act." Stanton Park was ultimately paid at least $80,000 through 2006. Strawn's biography on the firm's website says she had been an "Appropriations Associate" in Cunningham's office. There she "successfully shepherded" legislation "to allow certain student loan borrowers to consolidate with their lender of choice" and "ran point for Cunningham's efforts to build coalition support for key programs in the Labor Health and Education bill."
Currently the nation's eighth-largest student-lending company, Student Loan Xpress, headquartered on High Bluff Drive in Del Mar Heights, grew rapidly, in part by plying university financial aid officers with advisory fees, free travel, and stock in the company. In one case, the company paid $80,000 to send its executives to conferences run by a firm that was owned by a college's dean of financial aid. The alleged aim was to enhance loan referrals by the schools. DeRose, a former executive for American Express Educational Loans, and his associates cashed out big-time in 2005 when CIT Group bought Student Loan Xpress for $318 million. Last week, CIT put deRose and his associates, who continued to work for the company after its sale, on leave until investigations are complete. Those include one by Democratic senator Edward Kennedy.
Besides employing Cunningham's ex-aide as a lobbyist, Education Lending Group created a political action committee that contributed $5000 to "American Prosperity PAC" Cunningham's "leadership" PAC, in February 2005, as well as giving to other Republican causes. Company employees contributed $10,000 to Cunningham's reelection campaign from 2003 through 2005.