Sam Petulla

Sam Petulla is a writer based in Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in Wired, Inside Higher Ed, and at the Nieman Journalism Lab's Web site.

Recent Articles

Pass Without Distinction

The Department of Education cracks down on the worst for-profit scams,
but lets those that are just "bad" off easy.

In Clinton, Iowa, a 500-capacity football stadium sits on the campus of Ashford University, which sells heavy football sweatshirts emblazoned with the school's logo in its campus store. But don't expect to see cheering fans filling up the bleachers anytime soon. Ninety-nine percent of the college's 78,000 students are online, and there is no Ashford football team. The stadium and gear are just marketing swag, used to make the online university look like a traditional school. On the numbers, though, Ashford is anything but traditional. It has an 84 percent dropout rate for its two-year associate degree program. Eighty-six percent of its students receive federally backed student loans, but just three years out, 22 percent find themselves in default on them. And Ashford's payback rate is significantly better than the average for-profit college. After a nearly two-year drafting and revision process, the Department of Education (DOE) has finally begun to crack down on schools like Ashford...

Haiti's Post-Election Unrest

TAP talks with a foreign-affairs expert about the protests in Haiti following disputed election results.

Rioting, violence, and mistrust caused by widespread suspicions of fraud have consumed Haiti in the nearly two weeks since last Sunday's presidential election. The election, meant to replace the current president, René Préval, was held even with a cholera epidemic and many residents still living in tents after January's massive earthquake. Haiti was let down by international organizations and the United States government, both of which insisted on pushing for the scheduled vote despite failing to provide promised technical support and oversight to ensure the election's legitimacy. The Prospect spoke with Robert Fatton, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, about what this might mean for the country's continued recovery, the role of aid organizations, and what options remain for political resolution. With the cholera, rioting, and political uncertainty, how dire is Haiti's current situation, and what is the best hope for trying to...

Some Citizens United Numbers.

As TAP has documented, this election season has seen more than its share of organizations buying expensive airtime to run ads in favor of candidates and issues. Here's a breakdown of spending by 501(c)s -- organizations with Orwellian names like “Americans for Prosperity” that can take unlimited contributions from anonymous, private donors -- in key races the last two weeks before the election: Race Democratic Republican NV Reid/Angle $481,852 $2,141,803 WI Feingold/Johnson $169,650 $794,260 CO Bennet/Buck $1,476,722 $1,303,762 PA Sestak/Toomey $1,699,268 $514,344 *Source: As you can see from the table above, in a last-ditch effort to save the campaigns of Sestak and Bennet , non-disclosing Democratic groups actually outspent their Republican counterparts. But in Nevada and Wisconsin, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thumped the Democrats in media spending. The problem with "non-disclosing, outside groups" is they allow voters to...

The Lowdown on Election Spending

TAP talks to Sheila Krumholz about the real effects of the Citizens United decision on the midterms.

Sen. Charles Schumer during a news conference about the DISCLOSE Act vote. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
This election season, outside interest groups, freed from the restraints of campaign-finance law by the Citizens United ruling, are spending unprecedented amounts of money to influence races around the country. New groups are organizing under 501(c) nonprofit status, which allows them to spend up to half their money on political activities and doesn't require them to disclose who their donors are. According to a recent estimate by the Associated Press, $264 million has already been spent on communications alone -- more than during the entire 2008 presidential election season and more than four times the amount spent during the 2006 midterms. TAP spoke with Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics and its campaign-money-tracking database , about how, exactly, these 501( c) organizations work, what this means for democracy, why we shouldn't have forgotten Watergate, and why we don't want to wait to correct the problems caused by...

Unequal Politics

TAP talks with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson about their new book on income disparity and how Washington has abandoned the middle class.

Jacob Hacker (New America Foundation)
With the distribution of income between the rich and the poor less equitable than at any time in recent memory, a slew of new books has come forth attempting to explain the phenomenon as not just an accident but the result of decades of policy-making. Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class , the new book from Jacob S. Hacker, an economist from Yale University, and Paul Pierson, a political scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, brings out the charts and combs the data in a swiftly written political history that shows why we're where we are and what crippled our government's ability to deal with it. TAP caught up with Hacker and Pierson to talk about their income-disparity analysis, criticisms from around the blogosphere, and the kind of politics needed if someone's going to start standing up for the middle-class. So the rich are getting really rich now. How did that help put us in the economic situation...