The business of evil took six steps back last week.
Rep. John Kline, Minnesota's Most Reprehensible Congressman (TM), announced he would not seek an eighth term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016.
The just turned 68-year-old lawmaker still has a year and change to toil on behalf of dark forces.
In the meantime, City Pages presents "John Kline's Top 10 Greatest Hits of Evil."
Every year as the weather turned agreeable, Minnesotans could count on the Republican to host his annual "Career and Jobs Fair" — a recruitment expo for predatory, for-profit colleges.
“I am pleased to provide this opportunity for Minnesotans who are among the millions of Americans looking for a job," said Kline before his May 2014 fair at the Eagan Community Center.
Despite the altruistic billing, the events were really the congressman setting the table for a for-profit college feeding frenzy.
Among the Kline invitees in 2014 looking to "assist" people trying to better their lot was a disproportionate number of for-profit colleges, including DeVry University, Crown College, and ITT Tech, the Carmel, Indiana company whose two executives were indicted on federal fraud charges earlier this year.
For-profit colleges, the cur of higher education, are Kline's most generous campaign contributors, sending the lawmaker checks totaling well into seven figures over the course of his career.
The predatory industry has well earned its reputation for totally screwing students. The nation's youth are saddled with mountain ranges of student debt and degrees from the likes of ITT Tech that don't parlay into better lives as recruiters had promised. And these schools do it on the backs of American taxpayers — to the tune of more than $30 billion annually.
For-profit colleges' financial lifeblood is federal student loans and grants. As the influential chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Kline has consistently thwarted attempts to curtail the dubious schools unfettered access to public monies.
The only parties hooked up by these career fairs — er, make that fundraisers — were Kline and his campaign contributors, and they milked them for every nickel.
Kline was quick on the draw in June to blast another round of impending eating standards under the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act, First Lady Michelle Obama's crusade to improve what kids eat during the school day.
“These regulations have created an environment where students are not getting the nourishment they need, and food and taxpayer dollars wind up in the trashcan,” said Kline during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on federal child nutrition programs.
Funny how Kline considered $3.2 billion over many years wasteful when it applies to kids' eating, yet chronically enabled 10 times that amount annually to be poached from taxpayers by for-profit colleges.
Kline aligned with other GOP lawmakers to roll back the new eating measures, wanting to revert to the old standards that require only half of all grains offered to be whole-grain rich, leaving sodium levels where they are until science proves further reductions benefit children, and trashing the rule requiring kids to take the half cup of fruit and vegetables with every meal.
While rising up against better nutrition standards for America's future, the politician conveniently forgot to mention a cozy behind-the-scenes relationship powering his opposition.
General Mills, maker of sugary and sodium-filled deliciousness such as Totino's Party Pizzas and Lucky Charms, also happened to be Kline's fourth most generous campaign contributor, cutting checks for more than $80,000.
Earlier this year, a more huggable Kline debuted. His new motto: Now 4 percent less wicked!
As the lawmaker toured dilapidated Native American schools, which he had never done in his many previous years in Congress, it was apparent to all that Kline was attempting to shed his image as a heartless curmudgeon who cared more about his campaign contributors' bottom lines than children going to school in deplorable conditions.
Yet for all his efforts, Kline couldn't find it in himself to be nice to gay people.
He was the lone member of Minnesota's congressional delegation to vote against a law that prohibits the feds from doing business with contractors who discriminate based on race, gender identity, and sexual preference.
Corporate players like Uber, KFC's Yum Brands, and McDonald's dump on workers — and Kline supports it.
These companies employ one-rung-removed-from-responsibility shticks to insulate themselves from many of the problems associated with the pesky problem that is labor. Uber drivers don't work for the parent company. They're contractors. McDonald's drive-thru crews aren't employed by the Hamburglar. They're often on the payroll of a local franchise owner.
The National Labor Relations Board came out in August with a decision that said workplace rules shouldn't "guarantee the freedom of employers to insulate themselves from their legal responsibility to workers, while maintaining control of the workplace."
Kline responded by declaring he would "work to roll back this flawed decision," essentially arguing that empowering more workers would somehow lead to the ruin of American capitalism.
Damn those selfish special needs kids. They're expensive. Worst of all, they don't write checks to Kline that help him stay in office.
Nearly 124,000 special needs students called Minnesota home last year. Congress budgeted $187 million toward their education, although Kline as chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce knew they needed $300 million more.
What did Kline do on behalf of his most vulnerable constituents to make up for the difference? Zip.
State taxpayers paid the difference.
Hosing kids with Down Syndrome is one thing. Making sure his House committee was copiously funded was another.
Earlier this year, the former Marine colonel authored a House resolution, in which he asked for an almost eight percent budget increase for his committee, costing taxpayers more than $7 million the next fiscal year. That was almost $1 million more than it cost to run it two just years prior.
The first weeks of last December were especially epic for Kline.
He kicked it off by fighting to allow companies that do business with the federal government the right to discriminate against gay employees. After championing institutionalized bigotry, the decorated veteran's second act of the Christmas season was shepherding the GOP's effort to cut the pensions of millions of Americans.
The congressman with an annual salary pushing $200,000 and whose government pension will amount to no less than $41,000, which doesn't include his military retirement, was at the forefront of a measure allowing pension plans, many of them hit with investment losses from the recession, to reduce the benefits they paid out to both current and future retirees.
Proponents contended the provision was needed to salvage the nation's most distressed pension plans, which have been chronically under-funded for years, and faced imminent collapse.
Kline called the failing plans "a ticking time bomb" that mandated lawmaker intervention.
Opponents said the move was made in haste, accusing the likes of Kline for sticking it to workers, who made for an easy target.
"Cuts that impact retirees should be the last resort, not the first," said Wade Phillips, state director of AARP in Minnesota.
About the time the deliciousness of the Fourth of July holiday BBQ was still digesting, Kline's efforts warranted an updated motto.
What had been Now 4 percent less evil! was changed to: Now 2 percent less evil!
Kline resumed his role as corporate manservant, rising up against President Obama's proposal that would make nearly five million more U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay. According to the White House, overtime rules are in dire need of recalibration, since they easily allow companies to skirt paying overtime without much creativity.
Calling it "an issue of basic fairness," Obama wanted to close a loophole in what some say amounts to indentured servitude where workers toiling say, 60 hours a week, are denied overtime pay as long as employers deem them a "manager."
The change proposed by the president would affect millions of workers, 56 percent of them women.
Kline's response? He resorted to the hackneyed rhetoric that the change would send American capitalism to the Dark Ages.
In a statement he said, "It will increase costs on small businesses.… The administration has crafted a regulatory proposal that will stifle productivity and personal opportunity."
The high-water mark of Kline's duplicity took place in early June.
Kline had pocketed tens of thousands in campaign contributions in recent years from Corinthian College, a for-profit school so unscrupulous that it once enrolled a man with a third-grade reading level, then took $45,000 off him for a worthless criminal justice program.
Corinthian shut its doors earlier this year under pressure from regulators. Multiple state attorneys general, the federal Education Department, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau all leveled charges that the company used strong-arm recruiting practices and lied to students about job prospects.
Part of the fallout meant growing political pressure to forgive millions of dollars of federal student loans, the rates for which had shot up because of a "reform" largely authored by Kline.
Corinthian, the recipient of billions of taxpayer dollars, was the industry's poster child for bad behavior. Its history of exorbitant fees, lying about job prospects, and often encouraging students to be dishonest in order to gain more federal aid, could cost taxpayers in excess of $3.5 billion, according to a loan forgiveness plan proposed by the Department of Education.
As part of his less evil PR campaign, Kline, who'd spent years protecting colleges like Corinthian from legal scrutiny, came out in support of a government bailout for students who attended the fallen for-profit giant.
As Kiine wanted taxpayers to pay the freight for his skanking, he continued to feed at the trough of those responsible for ringing up the bill.
His most recent FEC filing at the time showed contributions from the likes of Apollo Education Group, parent company of the University of Phoenix, Capella Education, and Grand Canyon University, a for-profit institution based in Phoenix amounting.
The donations over a three-month period amounted to nearly $60,000.
Misogyny was added to the congressman's list of credentials in late July.
Kline signed on as a cosponsor of the "First Amendment Defense Act," the broadly worded GOP bill that's was a response to the Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
It's designed to prevent the feds from denying a business license, withholding Social Security benefits, or revoking tax exempt status to anyone or anything just because they think Jesus doesn’t like gay people. In essence, it prevents the government from taking punitive action on bigotry.
If that wasn't Pandora's box enough, the bill also states "that sexual relations are properly reserved" for old-school heterosexual marriage.
So if, say, a single lawyer is impregnated by her yoga teacher, and her law firm believes Jesus wouldn’t be happy about this, she can be fired.
To which Kline gives the thumbs up.
Kline has repeatedly exploited the nation's military servicemen and women when they serve his political ends.
“One of my guiding principles in Congress is to ensure America supports our troops, veterans, and their families…," he said earlier this year when voicing his support for a pair of veteran-centric bills.
Yet Kline's true political stripes were never been more apparent than when he threw his military brethren in front of the for-profit college train, in true Frank Underwood style.
Last summer when the committee chair had the opportunity to protect vets from predatory for-profit colleges targeting them for their GI Bill benefits, Kline instead put his own political interests ahead of America's heroes.
That's what happens when the aims of a politician and special interests became one and the same.
Two California Democrats crashed one of Kline's committee hearings. They were armed with a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which detailed how for-profit schools were targeting vets to soak up their GI Bills.
They pointed to the University of Phoenix's San Diego campus, where only 15 percent of those veterans had graduated or found jobs.
The Californians tried to invoke a rule that would help protect soldiers from the for-profit schools that were actively courting them for financial gain.
Kline, the decorated soldier who had served in Vietnam and Somalia, was likely more aware than most that veterans were being lured into dead-end educations.
Yet he killed the proposal right there, ruling it out of order.
Kline had received more campaign funds than any other member of Congress from the parent company of the University of Phoenix.
But his spokesman, Brian Newell, said political contributions had zero to do with the congressman's action, writing, “Rep. Kline has long championed policies that encourage a diverse higher education system, and it’s not surprising that organizations that share his views offer their support."
The American Prospect ran a story last week about the congressman titled The For-Profit College Industry Is Losing its Most Loyal Politician.
City Pages feels like we're losing that crazy uncle who could always be counted on for some totally egregious behavior. Dare we say it? We're kinda going to miss him. A little bit. A very little bit…
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- Billionaire Stanley Hubbard says there is no campaign finance problem
- Congressman wannabe John Howe's website stumbles out of the gate
- Candidates burn $2 million of their own money to replace John Kline
- John Kline, longtime enemy of poor kids and moms, plucked to rein them in