While he was asking the U.S. Department of Education to ease up on proposed regulations that would affect the for-profit college industry, Minnesota Republican Congressman John Kline accepted $4,500 in campaign contributions from sources related to the industry, according to data included in a report by the investigative reporting Web site ProPublica.
Kline, the ranking Republican on the 50-member Education and Labor Committee, was one of more than a dozen U.S. House members who have signed letters opposing the Obama administration's proposed rules, and who have accepted contributions from the industry, according to correspondence obtained by the Web site.
ProPublica research indicates Kline accepted a total of $3,000 from Westwood College Inc.-Fund for Educational Excellence, and $1,500 from Career Education Corporation PAC.
Those donations came April 21 and 22. Kline signed letters to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on March 22, April 30 and July 19.
It is unclear whether those donations are part of a regular record of contributions or came only during this year's debate over regulations. According to one federal online record, the contributors are not listed as having contributed to Kline in years past.
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I called Kline's office asking for comment early this afternoon. ProPublica reported that only one member of the group responded to its calls: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. It was unclear, however, whether it had tried to contact Kline.
ProPublica reports that the group of letter signers got almost $94,000 from for-profit college interests between the start of this year and late July. Most of the donations came after March 22, which was when the first letter was written to the education secretary.
Why is this important?
As Sharona Coutts of ProPublica writes:
"Whenever a member of Congress gets a large amount of contributions relatively close to the period where they take a specific action for an interest group, it raises appearance problems that undermine public confidence in the action that was taken, and also undermines the argument for the position on the merits," Wertheimer said.