Already encountering mockery for his Downton Abbey-themed office, facing scrutiny for selling his home to a donor at an above-market price, accepting the resignation of his top aide following revelations of the aide's racist Facebook posts, and confronting an ethics complaint over the use of taxpayer funds to decorate the aforementioned office, Rep. Aaron Schock's (R-IL) public relations mess just got deeper.
The Associated Press reports that the flashy up-and-coming congressman -- renowned more for his Instagram account than for anything he's accomplished since his election to Congress six years ago -- has spent more than $40,000 in taxpayer and campaign funds on private plane flights since mid-2011. Ironically, the congressman's Instagram photos helped the AP track his spending:
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." The AP had been seeking comment from Schock's office since mid-February to explain some of his expenses.
The flights, the AP reports, occurred on planes owned by Schock donors. The report comes on top of a two-year-old House Ethics Committee probe into Schock's 2012 solicitation of campaign funds from Eric Cantor's campaign committee to support a super PAC backing a fellow Illinois Republican congressman. According to the AP, that probe continues.
While Schock responded to the latest revelations by asserting that he uses the flights to connect with constituents, the AP found that he has also secured reimbursements for entertainment events, including a June 2014 Katy Perry concert in Washington.
Schock's ethics woes threaten to stall -- or even derail -- a political career once considered among the GOP's most promising. Elected to Congress at the age of just 27, Schock has long been talked up as a potential candidate for statewide office in Illinois, a typically blue state that has nevertheless showed a willingness to elect Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and Gov. Bruce Rauner. Despite his social media celebrity and prodigious fundraising, however, Schock is rapidly becoming a political liability for his party.