Scholar. Patriot. Warrior.
Before Rep. John Kline, Minnesota's Most Reprehensible Congressman (TM), became Minnesota's most reprehensible Congressman, he traversed a virtuous trail.
Not long after graduating from Rice University, Kline became one of the few, the proud. As a U.S. Marine, he served as a helicopter pilot over the jungles of southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The Naval Aviator flew "Marine One," the presidential chopper, years later, then commanded all Marine aviation forces in Somalia in 1992-93. Before retiring as a colonel, Kline earned master's degree in public administration.
During his first eight years in Congress, the conservative Republican exhibited a yeoman's dedication to craft. Like him or loathe him, Minnesotans knew where Kline stood. He was hawkish to a fault, and there was nary a military strike that didn't make him smile. He rose up like the morning sun against gun control, abortion, and all things pork barrel.
But not long after Kline was named mighty chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in 2010, it became obvious the lawmaker's campaign contributors had more sway than his conscience.
For instance, when some of Kline's congressional peers attempted to derail for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix from preying on military veterans and their GI Bill cash as easy money, the Minnesota GOPer intervened. He lobbied other politicos, insisting the initiative be quashed. The reform died, never making it out of committee, thanks in large measure to Kline.
His actions were easily explained.
During the 2010 elections, Kline's campaign and his political action committee took in a combined $124,000 from the for-profit college industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.
Two years later, Kline's take rocketed to $413,000, with the University of Phoenix's parent company accounting for $33,000. Kline has pocketed more than $1 million from for-profit colleges since 2009.
Now, in the autumn of his Capitol Hill career, which ends at the end of the year, Kline again appears to be working another special interest angle.
Late last month, Kline introduced a measure that would exempt many federal defense contractors seeking government contracts worth more than $500,000 from disclosing labor law violations. In other words, if a company has repeatedly fired gay employees or chronically refused jobs because applicants are transgender — and they've been cited for as much — it wouldn't matter when they're courting new fed work. It would be as if their workplace bigotry never existed, according to Kline's proposal.
Why is Kline throwing defense contractors this bone?
Dr. Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, thinks he sees the writing on the wall: "It sounds like a classic kind of favor for a donor or special interest. This looks like one of those ways members of Congress curry favor, either to get donations or to help line up future work."
In this case it's the latter. For-profit higher colleges are now disgraced with very few allies. Even Kline has remained awkwardly silent as the Department of Education and various state attorneys general investigate.
Kline won't hitch himself to a losing horse this time. The fed loves buying missiles, airplanes, and all things that explode. The congressman's military resume, coupled with his Inside-the-Beltway street cred, make him a natural fit as a defense industry lobbyist.
Besides, he could use the scratch. According to Roll Call, his current net worth is approximated at $400,000 in the red.
Kline press secretary Troy Young didn't respond to repeated messages Friday seeking comment for this story.