When the Washington Post's Ben Terris published a Styles story on Illinois congressman Aaron Schock's Downton Abbey-themed office last month, it initially came across as yet another tongue-in-cheek feature on the flamboyant congressman, a Crossfitting, Ariana Grande-befriending, impeccably attired 33-year-old whose public persona "is more about lifestyle and less about lawmaking," as the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg put it. One could hardly have predicted that Terris' story on sconces and paint colors would catalyze the Republican rising star's rapid unraveling, but that's precisely what it did.
First came the revelation that taxpayers had picked up the tab for Schock's office redecorating, followed by a succession of stories on the congressman's other ethically dubious practices: Selling his home to a wealthy donor for a price well above the market rate. Charging taxpayers and campaign donors for private plane trips and Katy Perry concerts. Failing to report gifts and meals from a lavish London junket in 2011. Billing the public for a private plane flight to a Chicago Bears game -- a few weeks after he milked the public coffers so he and his staffers could spend a weekend in New York City, where most of those present had minimal official business.
With Schock, it is becoming embarrassingly clear, there's always another shoe to drop. And so one did on Monday evening. The latest revelation concerns Schock's travel to the aforementioned Bears game. Schock had already billed taxpayers $10,000 for his private flight to the November 16 Bears-Viking match, but it turns out that he also used another $3,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for the flight. However, Schock reported that $3,000 as a software purchase on federal campaign finance records. An innocent mix-up? Not quite: Keith Siilats, the chief technology officer of the firm from which Schock claimed to have purchased software, told Politico, "I never sold him software."
Federal law prohibits "knowing and willful" misrepresentation of official expenditures. Those two criminal defense attorneys Schock retained last month may soon find themselves very busy men indeed.
Amid mounting evidence of ethical improprieties, Schock's political future is increasingly uncertain. He represents a solidly Republican Peoria-based district, so looking ahead to 2016, he is most vulnerable not in a general election, but against a GOP primary challenger. And Schock now has one: Attorney Mark Zalcman on Monday launched his bid for the GOP nomination, about one year before primary voters head to the polls. At this point, however, it's an open question whether Schock will even make it that far.