When Congress returns from recess next week, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who resigned after Politico raised questions about his mileage reimbursements, will not return with it. Before Schock becomes a footnote in history, it’s worth reflecting on how he represents everything wrong with the way Congress raises money. The dismissals of Schock as simply a “show horse, not a work horse,” to use the old phrase, misses the more interesting—and disturbing—story. The rise and fall of Schock embodies the reality of the current campaign finance system. Members are now valued by the Leadership and fellow Members because of their fundraising prowess, not their legislating abilities. Aaron Schock will only be missed in Congress for his ability to raise significant amounts of money for himself and his party. Known for connecting himself and others with big donors, he had little time to do any of the things he was elected to do by his constituents in Peoria, nor paid to do by all of us taxpayers.
The most important reason that the young Congressman was seen as an up-and-comer was that he was viewed by his fellow Members and the media as a rainmaker who was willing and able to shake money from wealthy donors. He reportedly raised almost $11 million in his seven years in Congress. For example, he successfully convinced the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Super PAC based in Texas, to use $25,000 of its money to help a fellow Illinois Republican who was thrown into a tough battle against another Republican after redistricting. Rep. Schock also headed up “30 for 30,” a campaign to raise $30,000 for GOP lawmakers in their 30s. In the meantime, his record of legislative achievement in the House can only be described as slim, especially for someone who was named a Deputy Minority Whip upon arriving in the House.
As much as Rep. Schock’s Instagram account provides juicy tabloid fodder, the scandal here is not that he spent political money on a cushy and glamorous lifestyle. If he had been advised by lawyers who knew campaign finance laws, he could have spent all of this money through a leadership PAC and it would not have violated any laws (though that is another story!).
Instead, the true scandal is that he was doing what all “successful” Members of Congress now do—ignoring Congressional grunt work and instead raising money. Schock is far from alone in having become lost in the money-chase, and the five-star travel culture to which he and fellow members of Congress now feel entitled. The only difference is that Rep. Schock made the fateful choice to decorate his office in a Downton Abbey theme and documented much of his lifestyle of the rich-and-famous on Instagram—a mistake others will be well warned to avoid.