Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock has hired top lawyers and public relations experts in the wake of recent questions surrounding his travel and entertainment expenses.
Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, had spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, an Associated Press review found. There have also been other expensive charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.
By Tuesday, Schock brought on board Washington attorneys William McGinley and Donald McGahn, a former Federal Election Commission member. Schock also retained GOP communications experts Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh, according to a person familiar with the changes who was not authorized to speak publicly. Politico first reported the hires Tuesday.
Schock's expenses, detailed by the AP and other news organizations in recent weeks, highlight the relationships that lawmakers can have with donors who fund their political ambitions. It's an unwelcome message for Schock, a congressman billed as a fresh face of the Republican party.
The AP's review identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors' planes since mid-2011, tracking 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 to comment Monday, Schock said 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. Schock was in Washington Tuesday evening to cast votes on the House floor.
Schock 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, but his office would not provide any details about them. The new hires may signal a shift that Schock could begin to respond to those questions publicly.
Schock's high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office in the style of 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 during a 2012 primary.
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 also spent thousands more on tickets for concerts and car mileage reimbursements, and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.
The AP's review covered Schock's travel and entertainment expenses in his taxpayer-funded House account, in his campaign committee and the "GOP Generation Y Fund," a political action committee. Records show more than $1.5 million in contributions to the fund since he took office in 2009.
Schock's reliance on donor-owned planes is the most recent example of lawmaker use of donors' planes for transportation. After Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., took two 2010 flights on a private jet owned by a wealthy eye doctor and major donor, a 2013 ethics investigation prompted his $58,500 personal reimbursement to the donor for the flights. His office noted that Menendez did not use taxpayer funds to pay for the flights.
Records show Schock also requested more than $18,000 in mileage reimbursements since 2013, among the highest in Congress. His office has previously said it was reviewing those expenses.