It wasn't that long ago that Rep. John Kline, Minnesota's Most Reprehensible Congressman (TM), was pocketing tens of thousands in campaign contributions 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.
How things have changed.
Corinthian, one of Kline's most loyal contributors, 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.
Now Kline, who's spent years protecting colleges like Corinthian from legal scrutiny, wants the government to forgive the estimated $214 million owed by former Corinthian students.
His new-found sympathy is surprising. Kline, a normally bombastic defender of the industry, had for months been uncharacteristically hushed on a subject so dear to his pocketbook. And for good reason.
Almost two months after the Dept. of Ed fined Corinthian $30 million for fudging job placement rates, Kline cashed a $2,500 check from the disgraced educator.
He emerged from his self-imposed muteness to declare in a statement: "... I support discharging the loans for those eligible students who were in the process of earning a degree.... As I have stressed from the beginning, all parties should continue to keep in mind the best interest of students."
But the best interests of students have never been of much interest to Kline.
Noticeably absent from his statement was any mention of his role as Congress's chief obstructionist, in which he took huge donations in exchange for sabotaging any reform of for-profit colleges or halting their gluttony at the all-you-eat buffet of federal education dollars.
Now, that once-infallible union is becoming the center of the congressman's ever-softening underbelly. So Kline has tried to downplay his vulnerability by showcasing a kinder, gentler side. At least publicly.
In April, he made highly publicized tours of some of the state's most dilapidated Native American schools. The timing smacked of a PR stunt.
Native communities had been asking for help for years, yet their pleas had repeatedly fallen on deaf ears on Capitol Hill. And on Kline's, since he's been the education committee chairman since 2011, and hadn't lifted a finger to help Indian schools.
But his call to forgive loans to students at Corinthian, which was pocketing well over $1 billion in federal funds just a few years ago, appears to be evidence that Kline is at least privately acknowledging that his skanking may be coming back to haunt him.
His very public stances on loan forgiveness and Native schools are a radical about-face, the kind of stuff made from political necessity. As the for-profit industry collapses, Kline is in dire need of opportunities to show he's actually warm blooded.
But that doesn't mean he's developed a sudden aversion to their money.
According to the most recent "Kline for Congress" FEC filing, the legislator continues to pull in funds from for-profit colleges.
Globe University exec Kathryn Myhre recently sent $10,000. ITT Tech exec Kevin Modany, who was recently indicted on fraud charges, sent $1,500. (ITT is currently under investigation by numerous state attorneys general. It's also the defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging predatory lending.)
Though Kline can no longer rely on Corinthian's money -- its execs have given him $30,500 since 2010 -- other for-profits have eagerly stepped in to fill the void.
According to FEC data, Kline took in no less than $60,000 from the industry in just the first three months of this year.
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