Monday, February 23, 2015

Lawmaker with lavish office decor spent thousands on donors' private planes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, has spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, The Associated Press has found. There also have been other expensive travel and entertainment charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.

The expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors' planes since mid-2011.

The AP tracked Schock's reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman's penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock's office and campaign records.

Asked for comment, Schock responded in an email on Monday that he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district "to stay connected with my constituents" and also travels to raise money for his campaign committee and congressional colleagues.

He said he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his office's procedures "concerning this issue and others to determine whether they can be improved."

Donors who owned planes on which travel was paid for by Schock's House and political accounts did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Schock's high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office after the TV show "Downton Abbey," add to awkward perceptions on top of allegations he illegally solicited donations in 2012.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said in a 2013 report that there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules by soliciting campaign contributions for a committee that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a 2012 primary. The House Ethics Committee has said that query remains open.

"Haters are gonna hate," Schock, 33, told ABC News after the "Downton Abbey" story broke in The Washington Post, brushing off the controversy by invoking a line from one of pop singer Taylor Swift's songs.

Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. The earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.

Schock's House account paid more than $24,000 directly to a Peoria aviation firm for eight flights provided by one of Schock's donor's planes in 2011 and 2012. While the aircraft flies as part of an Illinois charter service, the owner of the service told the AP on Monday that any payments made directly to the donor's aviation company would not have been for charter flights.

Beyond air travel, Schock spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements — among the highest in Congress — and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.

The donor planes include an Italian-made Piaggio twin-engine turboprop owned by Todd Green of Springfield, Illinois, who runs car dealerships in Schock's district with his brother, Jeff. Todd Green told a Springfield newspaper that Jeff — a pilot and campaign contributor — and Schock have been friends for a long time.

Story and photo:  http://www.usnews.com

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