Rep. Aaron Schock, once a rising star of the Republican establishment from Illinois, is under increasing scrutiny over expenses billed to taxpayers and campaign donors. The 33-year old is already facing a House Ethics investigation over costs associated with redecorating his House office building.
New revelations expose a rather lavish lifestyle for the congressman, courtesy of taxpayers and campaign donors. USA Today reported that Rep. Schock made extensive use of private planes for travel, despite general federal rules against it. The paper noted that he topped all Illinois Congressmen on travel expenses and even spent more on travel than all but a handful of Congressmen, most of whom have senior leadership positions.
The Associated Press identified more than a dozen flights on donors’ planes worth more than $40,000 since mid-2011. Schock’s House office account, which is provided by taxpayers, apparently paid a large portion of these costs. A PAC under Schock’s control also paid a portion of these costs.
The AP investigation was able to identify Schock’s private plane use through social media:
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.
This novel approach likely undercounts the number of private flights Schock took. It does raise the question, however, about how the Congressman’s extensive use of Instagram and other social media helps him fulfill his Congressional and political duties.
His presence on Instagram is such that Schock has hired a personal photographer, whose salary is paid by funds from both taxpayers and campaign donors.
To keep track of all his comings and goings, Schock has hired a personal photographer. Jonathon Link, a former Dallas-area wedding photographer, now snaps shots for Schock, and both his campaign and taxpayers pick up the bill.
Schock’s Instagram account shows the Congressman tangoing in Argentina, surfing in Hawaii and meeting the Pope, among other jet-setting activities. He has even posted “selfies” with pop star Ariana Grande and other celebrities.
His campaign accounts have spent lavishly on four-star hotels and resorts, Super Bowl tickets and multiple concerts and festivals. He even took all his office interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in D.C. last June.
One of the interns, according to the AP, posted an Instagram photo of Perry from the concert with the following message: “You can’t say no when your boss invites you. Danced my butt off.”
It seems like a nice life, albeit one more fitting for a reality show on Bravo than the Halls of Congress. Schock isn’t simply a jet-setting caricature. “Sure, he’s a narcissist, but there are real political ambitions behind that,” an Illinois Republican strategist told Breitbart News. “He’s already on Ways and Means [Committee] and plans to be Governor. He’s building a brand.”
The entertainment industry used to have an old adage that if a show “played in Peoria,” — did well there — it would be a hit elsewhere in the country. Schock, who represents Peoria, seems to be turning that adage on its head.
He’s apparently hoping that building a fabulous life outside his district will be a “hit” in his home political base. As central and western Illinois residents struggle to grapple with rapid economic change, their Congressman’s lavish lifestyle could be a welcome distraction. Or, it could be painful reminder that Washington is woefully out of touch.