The Corner

Law & the Courts

Schock Story: How Downton Abbey and Car Mileage Brought Down a Congressman

Today’s sudden resignation of Representative Aaron Schock (R., Ill.) called to mind the quick fall from power of House Ways and Means chairman Dan Rostenkowski, also of Illinois, back in 1994.

Both men saw their careers evaporate over relatively trivial matters. In Rostenkowski’s case, he was accused of chiseling money from the House Post Office using postage stamps. He ultimately pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The 33-year-old Schock isn’t accused of any abuse of office yet, and his statement of resignation simply said that “constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction” and have made it “too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th district.”

The Washington Post touched off the scrutiny early this year with a report that Schock had decorated his Congressional office in the style of PBS’s Downton Abbey. Last month, he repaid $40,000 from his personal funds for the cost of the decoration. But he soon faced questions about the financing of a series of trips he had taken to foreign countries, including one where he had brought along a male photographer in apparent violation of House rules.

But sources close to the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics report that Schock’s quick departure was rooted in the mundane issue of mileage reimbursement. Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Shock used campaign funds to buy a $74,000 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, but then billed taxpayers for mileage he drove. For example, Schock billed taxpayers $1,218 for mileage he drove between September 1 and October 1 of last year. But an analysis of his calendar showed that there seemed to be no way he actually drove enough to justify the reimbursement he claimed. Other questionable examples of reimbursements were also discovered. Federal Election Commission rules require that campaign-purchased vehicles that are driven for personal use must have the mileage reimbursed from the candidate’s personal funds within 30 days.

Schock’s office has declined to comment on the issue, but the congressman did address his general situation last week when a reporter from Politico caught up with him back in Peoria, which is part of his district. When the four-term lawmaker was asked if he had broken any rules or federal laws, he replied: “Well, I certainly hope not. I’m not an attorney.”

Not exactly a confidence-building response. Schock may hope that his sudden resignation from office will reduce interest in his case from ethics watchdogs, but sources tell me there is a good chance that he will pursued — just as Dan Rostenkowski was with that laundered postage-stump money two decades ago.

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