Rep. Aaron Schock bills taxpayers for staffers’ weekend in New York
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WASHINGTON — Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., took at least 10 of his House staffers on a $10,053 taxpayer-funded trip to New York last September, where most of them had few official duties, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
Schock was in New York for events on Sept. 27 and 28 connected to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. — and given the latitude House members have with their taxpayer allowances – not at issue is whether Schock personally conducted official business.
But a Sun-Times examination has revealed that most of the Schock staffers — who worked in Peoria or Washington — did almost no government work during their taxpayer-funded weekend in New York.
A Schock spokesman confirmed that at least 10 Schock House staffers were on the taxpayer-funded New York trip. Schock had 14 staffers on his House payroll at the end of last year, according to House disbursement records.
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The confirmation came after the Sun-Times told the spokesman that an examination of House disbursement records, Federal Election Commission reports and other information suggested that at least 10 Schock staffers traveled from Peoria and Washington for a weekend at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan.
A photo of Schock with Modi on Schock’s Instagram account and another picture reveal that Schock’s taxpayer-funded photographer was one of the staffers on the trip.
Schock used Modi-related events to raise his profile on both of those days. He did attend two events where Modi spoke, so some staff assistance is justifiable. Of the three other Illinois lawmakers who also traveled to New York to hear Modi speak, none brought staff with them for that speech.
The Sun-Times has reported that the latest House disbursement records shows Schock received $10,053 for “travel subsistence” between Sept. 26-29 and that the Peoria lawmaker was in New York for a series of events related to Modi’s U.S. visit.
The Sun-Times also has reported that $3,000 from a Schock campaign fund was used to pay for about 20 Global Citizen Festival concert tickets on that weekend.
The Sun-Times has learned there is more to the story.
Why Schock was in New York
On the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 27, Schock was in Central Park at the Global Citizen Festival concert, attended by thousands of people and televised. Schock was a speaker, talking about Modi in his remarks before the prime minister made his appearance.
On Sunday, Sept. 28, Schock was one of more than two dozen House members — including three colleagues from Illinois — who attended Modi’s speech before a packed audience at Madison Square Garden.
Schock has ties to India and Modi. He has visited the nation twice since joining the House in 2009.
Last August, Schock visited India on a trip paid for by the Global Poverty Project, which produced the Central Park festival. The organization also paid for videographer and photographer Jonathon Link – who has worked for Schock’s political operation, according to FEC records — to also go on the India trip. A few days later, on Sept. 1, Schock put Link on his House payroll.
The Caterpillar connection
Caterpillar Inc. — headquartered in Peoria and a major employer in Schock’s 18th Congressional District – has extensive manufacturing facilities in India.
Caterpillar was one of the major underwriters of the Global Citizen Festival concert, where Modi was a featured speaker. Indeed, Caterpillar is a major supporter of the Global Citizen organization.
A spokesman for the Global Poverty Project told the Sun-Times that Schock was “instrumental” in getting Modi to the festival; the invitation was extended by Schock and other Global officials during the August trip.
Joining Schock on stage at the festival was Michele Sullivan, vice president of the Caterpillar Foundation.
Schock’s use of campaign and government funds has come under scrutiny following a story about his “Downton Abbey” office redecoration last month.
A Schock spokesman told the Sun-Times in an email, “Schock believes international trade, including trade with India, benefits the many hard working families in his district and across the country by providing quality jobs that help families make ends meet during these difficult economic times.
“India is a significant economic partner of the United States, and the Congressman felt it was important to further that relationship by playing a constructive role during Prime Minister Modi’s event in New York as part of the Prime Minister’s inaugural trip to the United States. In light of the importance of these events, a number of Congressman Schock’s staff were present during the trip,” the spokesman said.
The Sun-Times earlier revealed that Schock, a Peoria resident, used taxpayer money for a charter flight between Peoria and Chicago to attend a Nov. 16 Bears game. Less than a day after the story, Schock wrote a $1,237 check to the U.S. Treasury for the trip.
House members can use government funds only for official business, not for social, personal or political purposes.
Last Friday, in Peoria, Schock held a press conference to announce he had hired outside consultants to oversee his political and government accounts.
Lipinski, Hultgren, Davis comparisons
The Sun-Times has confirmed that Chicago area lawmakers Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill.; Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill.; and Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., were at Modi’s Madison Square Garden speech.
- Davis told me he personally paid all the expenses for his Sunday New York day trip. Davis flew from Chicago to New York and then took a late-night train back to Washington, where he has an apartment.
- Lipinski also made it a Chicago-New York day trip. A Lipinski spokesman told me he billed taxpayers $741.06 for the plane fare and taxis.
- Hultgren is a member of the Financial Services Committee and his spokesman told me he stayed over Sunday night because he had official meetings with financial services companies on Monday. Hultgren billed taxpayers $849 for the flight, hotel, food and taxis. Hultgren’s financial services staffer in Washington joined him in New York for meetings; taxpayers paid $250.75 for the staffer’s train ride and taxis.
More on Schock’s New York spending
Schock stayed at the Palace Hotel in New York. I know this because, by coincidence, I was in New York also staying at the Palace the night of Sept. 27.I talked to a Schock staffer about interviewing Schock, but the timing did not work out. My room at the Palace, with tax, cost $247. A tab at the same price for 11 — 10 staffers plus Schock — would be $2,750 a night.The Schock Victory Committee – organized for FEC purposes as a “Joint Fundraising Committee” — shows payments for meals at New York restaurants:
- $554.15 at Bergdorf Goodman, which has a restaurant. It was called a “JFC meeting expense” on the FEC report.
- $1,272.84 at Mercer Kitchen, called “JFC event catering” on the FEC report.
- $816.45 at the Delta Grill, called “JFC event catering” on the FEC report.The are no other related New York fundraising costs listed on Schock FEC records.Schock in Chicago on Monday
Schock will surface in Chicago on Monday for the first time since the revelations over his spending of campaign and government funds. Schock is to appear with Gov. Bruce Rauner and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and other Republicans at an Illinois Business Immigration Coalition forum intended to push House GOP leaders to pass an immigration reform bill.