WASHINGTON (AP) — A government watchdog group on Wednesday asked congressional investigators to examine whether Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock violated House ethics rules by using taxpayer and campaign funds for private air travel.
The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said in its complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics that available evidence about Schock's spending "warrants a full investigation." Schock, a 33-year-old Republican, has faced scrutiny in recent weeks amid revelations he used the funds to pay for trips on his donors' aircraft.
An Associated Press review this week found Schock spent more than $40,000 for at least a dozen flights, including trips before 2013 that may have violated House rules. Schock's expenses also include fundraising-related charges to a massage company and for music concerts.
This is the third complaint from the liberal-leaning group CREW about Schock's finances since early February, the most recent one filed days after reports from the AP, Washington Post, Politico and USA Today. CREW's complaints on Feb. 3 and Feb. 9 asked for inquires over decorating services to furnish his office after the TV show "Downton Abbey," as well as the sale of his Peoria, Illinois, home to a campaign contributor.
A spokesman for Schock on Wednesday referred to the congressman's earlier comments about his finances. Schock told the AP on Monday he takes compliance with 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."
Lawmakers can use their 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. Separately, the Office of Congressional Ethics said in 2013 there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules on campaign contributions during a 2012 primary.
In a signal that Schock could begin to respond to questions about his expenses, Schock earlier this week 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.
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.
The 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.
Associated Press writers Kerry Lester in Peoria, Illinois, contributed to this report.
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