THE GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED, shareholder-owned Student Loan Marketing Assn. is finding its push to privatize may exact a hefty price. GOP legislators worry that privatization, though a worthy goal, would end user fees Sallie Mae pays Washington, a hit to the budget. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici's reply: an "exit fee" from Sallie Mae of up to $535 million. Before that happens, Sallie Mae is apt to have its day in court. On May 26, a dissident group that opposes privatization sued, charging the association with closing the polls early at its annual meeting, costing dissidents millions of votes in their drive for board seats. Sallie Mae countersued on May 30: It says the group solicited votes in a misleading manner.

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