During the eight years he served in Congress, Aaron Schock seemed to be leading a charmed life: gracing the pages of GQ and the cover of Men’s Health, raising gobs of campaign cash for his fellow Republicans, posting sexy Instagrams of his globe-trotting exploits. Now we know just how charmed his life really was: The Illinois Republican resigned today, effective March 31, after two months of devastating stories about his misuse of campaign and taxpayer cash on lavish office redesigns, chartered flights, and five-star resorts. Apparently, those stories weren’t playing well in Peoria.
The saga unfolded in the most unexpected way. About two months ago, Washington Post reporter Ben Terris dropped by Schock’s office for a coffee with the congressman’s spokesman, Ben Cole. When Terris commented on the unique office décor — most politician’s offices are painted standard-issue yellow or navy and filled with knickknacks from the member’s district, but Schock’s walls were blood red, decorated with pheasant sprays and antique picture frames — an interior decorator popped out of the lawmaker’s office and offered to show him her Downton Abbey–inspired work. Terris might have never written about it had Schock and his staff not treated him like he was about to reveal a state secret. That story caught the eye of other reporters, who started digging into his spending reports. What they found was not good: Schock had spent more than $100,000 in one year from his taxpayer-funded congressional account on chartered planes — more than the senators who represented the state. He’d taken his interns to sold-out Katy Perry concerts. He misreported a private flight as a software purchase. Along the way, his spokesman was forced to resign after Facebook posts he’d written comparing black people to zoo animals were unearthed.
Schock’s initial reaction to the spending questions was comically glib. “Haters are gonna hate” he told ABC News. Soon that turned to a farcical guardedness: “I certainly hope not,” the lawmaker told reporters who asked if he had broken any laws. Sources close to Schock’s office told me that his staff is largely composed of people even younger and less experienced in politics than he was, and that his finances weren’t in capable hands. But he’s the lawmaker, and it’s his job to know how the laws work. His spokesman’s social-media posts aside, the stories were clearly starting to look like possible congressional ethics violations, if not criminal ones.
So when Schock finally resigned today, it seemed obvious that another shoe was about to drop. And sure enough: Moments later, Politico posted a story saying that Schock had billed both his taxpayer-funded congressional account and his campaign account for 170,000 miles, but when he sold his car last year, the odometer showed only 80,000 miles on it. I’m pretty sure lawmakers sign those reimbursement forms verifying that they’re true under penalty of perjury. And getting reimbursed by taxpayers for 90,000 miles you never drove sounds more like stealing than bad accounting.
Political Twitter erupted Tuesday afternoon with bad Schock puns and jokes about the congressman’s washboard abs: “SCHOCK SHOCKER: ERRANT AARON NO LONGER PLAYING IN PEORIA — REP SEEKS AB-SOLUTION.” There were also kudos for the reporters who broke the story. This might have seemed like the usual insider-y self-congratulation Beltway types love to bestow upon one another, but it was more than that. Even amid all the corruption in Washington, the campaign laws and congressional rules are so arcane and the people in power know how to exploit them so well that hardly anyone is ever caught. Not this time.