Aaron Schock painted his office to look like landed gentry, but at the end a series of damaging stories he was reminded he was a public servant.
And as of March 31, he won’t even have that title.
Schock’s sudden resignation on Tuesday ended a 44-day free fall from power that began after a reporter from The Washington Post noticed his brightly hued-office made to look like the set of Downton Abbey.
The extreme office makeover was paid for not by the congressman, but with public money—like $40,000 worth.
Then there was his Carmen Sandiego-esque Instagram account:
Schock in a fedora tangoing in Buenos Aires.
The congressman jumping on a snow-topped mountain in Patagonia.
Schock tanned and surfing in Hawaii.
The optics weren’t good—a three-term congressman jet-setting around the globe—while people in Peoria lived on a median income of $50,712 a year.
It looked bad. Really bad. And yet, people in Peoria didn’t seem to care.
But what finally sealed his fate was a combination of hubris, poor record keeping and what looks like fraud, according to a new story from Politico that apparently prompted his quick exit.
A ride in a private plane was expensed as a software purchase. There were reports of other lavish flights taken at the taxpayer expense, as well as fancy hotels and dinners around the world.
The Associated Press reported about his shady dealings with political donors—sparking an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Then came the bombshell: Schock’s mileage reimbursements far exceeded the actual mileage on the car he linked with the travel.
The congressman with the made-for-headline puns last name was first elected to Congress at age 27—the youngest member of Congress at the time. Handsome and fit, he immediately attracted a lot of attention and stood out of the largely geriatric landscape.
He talked about ending “the culture of corruption”—a popular talking point on the campaign trail that year—particularly as the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich heated up.
As the scandals unfolded one after the other (after the other), Schock’s public comments didn’t seem to match the gravity of the situation.
“Haters are gonna hate,” Schock said when initially asked by ABC News about his office.
He was asked by Politico this month if he thought he had broken the law by charging the taxpayers $1,200 to fly a private plane to see the Chicago Bears play.
“I certainly hope not,” Schock replied.
Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, said Schock’s “lack of awareness” illustrates how broken the ethics system is in Congress.
“In most cases the ethics training of the members and staff is just inadequate,” she said. “So often, the norm is established by what other members hear in the cloakroom or hear what they can do. And that is pretty much where they get their information.”
“It establishes what is acceptable behavior almost by anecdote,” she added.
In fact, one of the things Schock said in response to questions about his spending speaks to this point. Politico wrote: “In a comment sure to enrage his Capitol Hill colleagues, he argued that if the media spent time digging into the spending of other lawmakers—like they have his—reporters would ‘find a story to write about any member of Congress.’”
And maybe that’s the problem.
Before disgraced super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, everybody let lobbyists fund everything from meals to trips to Scotland.
Before the infamous Bridge To Nowhere, every appropriations bill was larded with teacup museums and so-called “Monuments to Me” where living members used taxpayer money to build tributes to themselves in their districts.
Are the seemingly ridiculous dalliances of an attractive congressman from Illinois going to change the system?
But if everybody’s doing it, it’s only a matter of time before someone else gets caught.