That was the Chicago Sun-Times headline after Schock gave his farewell speech in Congress. Until a few days ago, Aaron Schock was my representative to Congress. I’ve been reading superlatives about Schock for years. His biography is filled with amazing firsts: youngest person serving on a school board in Illinois at age 19; youngest school board president in Illinois history; youngest representative to the Illinois legislature at 23; youngest person in Congress at 27. Not much more was told about what he had accomplished in these offices, although he had been in the public spotlight for years.
The Republican Party loved him. While still a candidate in his first Congressional election in 2008, he was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, a unique honor. The National Republican Congressional Committee chose Schock to chair their biggest fundraising event of 2014, their annual dinner in March. In June of last year, Schock was named senior deputy whip in the House.
But his behavior in Congress should have raised some questions about his maturity. From the beginning, Schock was entranced with his own appearance. You can see many of the photographs he had taken of himself without a shirt on Google. He was proud of his abs, displayed prominently on the cover of Men’s Health in June 2011.
Like most Republicans in Congress, Schock decries big spending by government. But Schock himself is a big spender. Although he has faced only token opposition since his first Congressional election, winning three-quarters of the vote against no-name Democrats in 2012 and 2014, he spent more on his campaign than the average Representative. In 2014, he spent $1.5 million, against $24,000 by his opponent.
Some of this lavish spending and the fundraising that supported it began to raise questions in 2014. His hometown newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, reported earlier this year about a number of surprising Schock campaign expenses: about $126,000 in food and drinks (that’s $345 per day); $2600 on campaign cufflinks; $1440 on “fundraising event entertainment” at a Baltimore massage parlor. His campaign bought a new Chevy Tahoe last year for $73,000 and another car, too. This is a rare practice among members of Congress, and the cars were registered in his own name.
Another way that Schock stood out was his penchant for flying on private aircraft. He, that is his campaign or his office, spent over $70,000 over the past six years on private planes, more than the rest of the Illinois congressional delegation combined. But he pretended otherwise. Eighteen months after President Obama invited him aboard Air Force One in 2009, he told a political rally, “I have to tell you that Air Force One is pretty nice. But I’ve been flying commercial ever since.” Yet USA Today reports that he had already spent $18,000 of taxpayer funds on private flights.
Everyone knows now about his lavishly decorated office. While his taste has been criticized, much more important was his neglect to pay for it. Until it became the stuff of headlines, of course, when he claimed an oversight and blamed his staff. It was only the most recent example of Schock’s flaunting the rule that he was not allowed to accept any gift, including food and beverage, exceeding $50 from any source. But Schock mainly used public funds to create his nest: according to USA Today, they “discovered more than $100,000 worth of renovations and furniture expenses Schock has billed to taxpayers in prior years, including hardwood floors, marble counters and high-end furniture.”
Schock appears to believe that he is special. When questions were raised about his office makeover, he said, “Well, I've never been an old crusty white guy. I’m different.” His comings and goings were so important that taxpayers and donors had to pay for his own personal photographer to record his high living.
His busy social schedule got in the way of doing his job. During his 6 years in office, Schock missed more than twice as many votes as the average representative.
In fact, Schock’s flamboyant lifestyle, paid with public funds, attracted attention long ago. He was on the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report” by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and Washington report for 2012 and 2013.
Oversights? Accounting mistakes? According to the Chicago Tribune, Schock requested reimbursement for driving 171,000 miles in his own car. But when he traded it up for the Chevy Tahoe, it only had 81,000 miles on the odometer. Right from the beginning of his Congressional career, in 2010 and 2011 he already claimed to have driven 96,000 miles.
In his final speech in Congress, Schock still saw himself as someone special. He compared his life to Abraham Lincoln’s, who also “faced as many defeats in his personal, business and public life . . . . His continual perseverance in the face of these trials, never giving up is something all of us Americans should be inspired by, especially when going through a valley in life.” As the Peoria Journal Star wrote, Schock was a “caviar congressman in a meat-and-potatoes district, a poster child for political excess”.
Aaron, you may have added another record to your list: youngest ever to resign in scandal at 33. In your last speech, you should have said you’re sorry. You’re no Honest Abe.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, April 21, 2015