Originally published on March 19, 2015, at NationofChange.org
To avoid a congressional ethics investigation into allegations of corruption, Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday. Caught failing to report gifts and charging taxpayers for lavish trips, Schock finally decided to step down when the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) began interviewing people close to the congressman. Although the House Ethics Committee will no longer have jurisdiction over Schock, the Justice Department could file criminal charges against him.
On February 2, The Washington Post published an article describing Rep. Schock’s remodeled office decorated in the style of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” Because Schock’s interior decorator, Annie Brahler, had offered her services for free, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint accusing Schock of accepting an improper gift. Although Schock eventually paid $40,000 from his personal finances to cover the cost, the media attention and his own self-promotion prompted further investigations into his extravagant lifestyle.
Appearing on the cover of Men’s Health while posting photos of himself on Instagram hiking across glaciers, surfing, and hanging out with Ariana Grande, Schock flagrantly flaunted a lifestyle well beyond his pay grade. Since first running for office in 2008, Schock has raised over $10.8 million in campaign contributions without ever facing a serious opponent. Between December 2009 and February 2010, Schock charged taxpayers more than $100,000 for decorations and renovations to his office.
CREW filed a second complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics after discovering Schock had sold his home in Peoria to a major campaign donor named Ali Bahaj for several times its assessed market value. The House Ethics Committee began investigating Schock in March 2012 after he allegedly violated federal law by soliciting contributions for a political committee in excess of $5,000 per donor. Along with his office’s lavish renovations, Schock has charged taxpayers and political donors hundreds of thousands of dollars for private plane trips, Katy Perry concert tickets, NFL games, massages, and luxurious vacations.
In June 2011, Schock failed to report lavish gifts and meals that he received while visiting London. In August 2014, Schock failed to disclose accepting money from the Global Poverty Project for a photographer and all-expenses paid trip to India. On November 16, 2014, Schock billed taxpayers over $10,000 for a private flight from Washington to Peoria. He also charged taxpayers an additional $3,000 for the flight while falsely reporting the money as a software purchase on federal campaign finance records.
Between January 2010 and July 2014, Schock billed the federal government for 123,131 miles on his personal vehicle. When Schock transferred his 2010 Chevy Tahoe to an Illinois dealership in 2014, his odometer only read 81,860 miles on it. After totaling all of his claimed mileage reimbursements, the government learned that Schock attempted to overbill them by seeking reimbursement for 172,520 miles on his SUV.
On Monday, Schock discovered that the Office of Congressional Ethics had begun interviewing his associates. Although it lacks subpoena power, the OCE reviews complaints against House members and makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. The next day Schock announced his resignation effective March 31.
By resigning from office, Schock will effectively close the OCE probe into his dubious actions and potential crimes as a U.S. Congressman. However, Schock’s resignation does not protect him from a Justice Department investigation.