Rep. Aaron Schock seems to understand this better than most members of Congress. After all, his chiseled physique and fashion sense has landed him, shirtless, on the cover of Men’s Health and in a photo spread in GQ in which he sported designer suits.
But the looks of his spending from campaign and PAC coffers aren’t quite as attractive. The sophomore Republican from Illinois has spent thousands of dollars from his campaign and political action committee funds on luxury hotels from Palm Beach to Manhattan, town car services, antique stores and concerts.
That’s all perfectly legal: As long as the trips and expenses are legitimately related to campaigning and fundraising, they’re fine. “It’s an appearance problem,” said Melanie Sloan, director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the watchdog group that analyzed Schock’s spending. “He seems perfectly happy to live high on the hog as long as someone else is footing the bill.”
In the past three election cycles, Schock’s campaign and PAC spent $85,622 on luxury hotels, about half of which were four- and five-star outfits, including the Waldorf Astoria in Chicago, the famed Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., and the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Steven Shearer, Schock’s chief of staff and campaign manager, says the expenses are merely investments that pay good returns — in the 2010 election cycle that propelled Republicans to the House majority, Schock was a top-10 donor to the National Republican Campaign Committee and to the “Young Guns” PAC, he notes.
To attract donations, Shearer says fundraising events have to stand out. “You can’t have the typical cocktail receptions at all the typical places in Washington that everyone has already done.”
CREW says the group first flagged Schock’s champagne tastes while scouring House members’ financials for a report titled “Family Affair.” In that analysis, they noted that Schock had used campaign funds for a fancy hotel stay in Greece (he later repaid the campaign) and for DVDs of the P90X fitness routine (billed under “healthcare,” by the way).
Other purchases included:
●$5,522 on what the campaign called “office equipment” from Euro Trash, an Illinois-based antique-import and design business whose must-see Web site (dig the massive chandeliers and to-die-for European antiques) declares that “everyone can and should live well.” Shearer, though, said the campaign purchased used office furniture, not antiques.
●$1,565 in “travel expenses” from “ J Bondi Inc.” in Beverly Hills. Shearer says this was for concert tickets (that company, CREW says, appears to be a holding company owned by Elton John).
●$859 on “gifts” from Storks Snapshots ($407) and the Bare Belly Boutique ($452), upscale maternity boutiques in Illinois. We’re still awaiting an explanation from Shearer on that one.
Campaign finance attorney Brett Kappel says Schock’s spending is a bit, well, schocking, particularly for such a junior legislator. “It seems he has expensive tastes — or excessive ambition,” Kappel says.