Illinois congressman defends $10K NYC trip with staff

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2015 6:56 PM
Illinois congressman defends $10K NYC trip with staff

CHICAGO (AP) — An Illinois congressman again was forced to defend his travel and spending habits Monday after a report emerged that he spent more than $10,000 of taxpayer money to have his staff accompany him on a trip to New York City.

The spending habits of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Peoria Republican, were already under intense scrutiny, including for using $40,000 in taxpayer funds to redecorate his Washington office in the style of the "Downtown Abbey" television show, which he ultimately paid back.

In the latest development, The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Schock made a September trip to New York with at least 10 staffers for events connected to a U.S. visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The newspaper reported that the Schock staffers did almost no government work there. About 20 tickets to a Global Citizen Festival concert — where performers included Jay Z and Carrie Underwood — were purchased using $3,000 from a Schock campaign fund.

The Sun-Times reported that House disbursement records show Schock received the $10,053 for "travel subsistence" between Sept. 26 and 29. The events with the Indian prime minister were Sept. 27 and 28.

Schock, at an event Monday in Chicago, told reporters the New York trip was official business and he was honored his staff could attend.

Schock said about a dozen world leaders including President Barack Obama spoke. His spokesman has said that Schock wanted to play a "constructive role" in Modi's visit to further economic ties between the U.S. and India. Schock has traveled to India twice.

"It was a very legitimate trip on official business," he told reporters. "I'm glad that I played such a significant role in it. And I'm honored that my staff was able to be there with me as well."

Schock would not address questions about why he took so many staff members. Other Illinois congressmen made the same trip but without staff members and some paid for the trip out of personal funds.

Schock on Monday also defended his frequent Illinois travel as his way of reaching constituents. He noted that his central Illinois district is geographically expansive, including parts of Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield, and says he has fewer district offices than other congress members.

"Some people spend more on direct mail pieces that they send out," he told reporters. "I spend more to get around my district."

An Associated Press review found Schock used his congressional account or campaign funds for at least a dozen flights worth $40,000 aboard planes owned by donors. Other official expenses that have been made by Schock include concert tickets to a sold-out Katy Perry show last year and a Bears game.

Schock has said that he's hired a firm to review his spending. He's reimbursed the government $40,000 for the office decorations and $1,200 for the Bears game flight.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.