PEORIA — Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., used taxpayer money to pay for a private plane to travel from Peoria to Chicago for the Bears-Vikings game on Nov. 16, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
And a Sun-Times examination of House disbursement records and campaign finance reports suggests that Schock used taxpayer money to help underwrite a September trip to New York, where a political action committee he controls spent $3,000 for Global Citizen Festival concert tickets.
The use of $20,855 in taxpayer money for the Chicago and New York trips will raise more legal and ethical issues for Schock.
These new Sun-Times revelations are part of a growing number of questions surrounding Schock’s use of campaign and government funds to support his extravagant jet-set lifestyle.
Schock hired two lawyers last week to conduct an internal audit of his operations. That action was triggered by the enormous scrutiny Schock is getting following his “Downton Abbey” office redecoration in Washington.
Schock, 33, a Peoria resident, has been a member of Congress since 2009. He represents the 18th Congressional District, which takes in parts of Peoria, Springfield and Bloomington as it stretches through central Illinois to the Mississippi River.
With the House working late on Friday, Schock remained in Washington over the weekend. He was spotted at lunchtime on Sunday dining with a group at the Pearl Dive Oyster Palace near Logan Circle in northwest Washington.
Spokesmen for Schock declined to to comment on the specifics of the New York and Chicago trips, referring me to last week’s statement about how Schock’s legal team was reviewing “compliance procedures in his official office, campaign and leadership PAC to determine whether they can be improved.”
The Bears game
Schock chartered an aircraft to take him from Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia, about 30 miles from the Capitol, to Peoria on Friday, Nov. 14. The return trip to Reagan National Airport was set for the next Monday. The side trip to Chicago was tucked in between, on Sunday, according to the pilot who flew the plane.
The newest official House disbursement records show a November payment of $10,802 to pilot Keith Siilats for “commercial transportation.”
Siilats told me in an interview on Sunday, “That whole weekend was paid by the government.” The only invoice Siilats said he submitted was for government payment.
Siilats also told me he attended the Bears game with Schock.
There are no records showing any reimbursement from Schock for the Chicago flights.
Siilats told me the original arrangement he negotiated for Schock — which included some discounts from his usual rates — was for him to wait out the weekend in Peoria with the plane, an Eclipse 500. The business jet has six seats, including one for the pilot.
Since the plane was sitting on the ground in Peoria, Schock wanted to use it, Siilats said.
Schock “called me on Saturday and said ‘what do you think about’ a Chicago trip.” Siilats agreed. Siilats said he flew Schock, his district director, Dayne LaHood and three others to Midway Airport.
Schock took Siilats and the others to the game at Soldier Field. “I’ve never been to a Bears game,” Siilats said. “. . . It was compensation for me.”
After the game and a meal at a restaurant, the group flew back to Peoria.
It’s not known who paid for the six tickets to the game. The Chicago Bears website said single-game tickets cost from $106.00 to $430.00 for regular season games.
Global Citizen Festival
That latest House disbursement report also shows that Schock collected $10,053 from the government in September for “travel subsistence” from Sept. 26 through Sept. 29.
It’s no mystery where Schock was on those days — he was in New York for the Sept. 27 Global Citizen Festival and for a round of national media interviews. He was very visible.
Thousands of people saw Schock on the festival stage in Central Park, where he introduced India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi.
Shock did have some official business with the Global Citizen Festival that weekend.
However, at the same time, a Sun-Times examination of records from Schock’s GOP Generation Y political action committee suggests that Schock used taxpayer money for nongovernmental activity.
According to a Generation Y Federal Election Commission report, a $3,000 September expense is listed for “PAC fundraising event tickets.” While the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park was free, the group was selling VIP tickets for preferred seating. VIP tickets were about $150, so Schock’s PAC bought about 20 tickets.
There is no record in any of Schock’s multiple fundraising committees — the Gen Y PAC, Schock for Congress, the Schock Majority Fund or the Shock Victory Committee — of hotel payments for the September trip.
Schock does have an association with the Global Citizen group.
Last August, Schock traveled to India on a trip sponsored by Global Citizen.
According to an August release from Schock’s office, among those on the trip were representatives from the Caterpillar Foundation, an offshoot of the construction and mining equipment manufacturer headquartered in Peoria.
On that trip, Schock met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A few weeks later, Schock was introducing Modi, whom he called his “friend,” to the crowd.
“As an American congressman, I share your goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030,” Schock said from the stage.