Appearances matter.

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 on luxury hotels from Palm Beach to Manhattan, town-car service, 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 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 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 lawyer 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.

Newt’s flagging effort

Former House speaker and almost-former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich put out a warm video thank-you to supporters Tuesday, a day before his official departure from the race.

In the short (105-second) video, Gingrich explains that he wanted his supporters “to know first because your help was vital” in the campaign. He thanked the “nearly 180,000 people who donated to the campaign and thousands more who worked as volunteers.” He gave no special shout-out to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson , who with his family gave more than $20 million to a pro-Gingrich super PAC.

As a result of all the support, Gingrich said, “we were able to put up a terrific campaign,” and he and wife Callista were “very grateful.”

But our colleague Karen Tumulty noticed that something . . . something . . . didn’t seem right about the video.

Of course! The U.S. flag is on Gingrich’s left — a major breach of protocol, not to mention Title 36 of the U.S. Code, which dictates that the flag be on the “speaker’s right as he faces the audience.”

So maybe it’s just as well that he’s getting out. The wheels have clearly come off the bus. In the old days, Gingrich surely would have bashed anyone for a similar faux pas.

Oh, well — it was fun there for a while.

Of thinkers and terrorists

The political War Over Osama (WOO) heated up in recent days as President Obama’s reelection campaign aired a video that touted the president’s decision to launch the mission.

Mitt Romney weighed in Monday diminishing the decision, saying, “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”

On the other hand, Carter’s disastrous 1980 decision to rescue American hostages in Iran — which resulted in eight servicemen killed, others injured and no hostages rescued — might have given Carter pause.

Romney ratcheted things up Tuesday, saying that “any thinking American” would have made that call, effectively calling the decision a no-brainer. Seems a cheap shot at Vice President Biden, who has said he advised against the mission.

Also a bit of a shot at the mental capacities of others who expressed reservations, such as former defense secretary Robert Gates, who noted that the Obama team wasn’t really sure Osama bin Laden was even in the compound. Opinions of those in the room were very much divided.

So maybe Romney’s actually offering a compliment? Obama is at least a “thinking American”? Okay, maybe not.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.