Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Gerrymandering Of Aaron Schock Into A Permanent Seat


In 2010, Illinois Democrats found themselves in complete control of the state government again. Time to gerrymander the state? It certainly worked out well for Republican Aaron Schock.

Aaron Schock was supposed to represent a new breed of Illinois Republicans-- suitably reactionary, if not crazy-fanatic, on the inside but superficially kind of like a normal person. He's the first Member of Congress born in the 1980s and he used to be mentioned a lot as a future candidate for statewide office. But Illinois has gone from being a dependably red state after the Civil War to being a reliably blue state as the party of Abraham Lincoln perverted itself into a party of racism and anti-family values-- and with waves of Jewish, Polish, German, Irish, Greek and Italian immigrants moving into the state, as well as Blacks from the South and Mexicans.

Illinois doesn't have party registration stats but Chicago is so deeply blue that Democrats have managed to control state government in Springfield. In 2010, the state Senate had 40 Democratic members and 19 Republicans and the House had 71 Democrats and just 47 Republicans. And a Democratic governor. With Republicans gerrymandering up North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and half a dozen other states, Illinois-- along with Maryland-- were looked at as states that could help the Democrats gain some seats in Congress. The 112th Congress had 11 Republicans and 8 Democrats, with one seat disappearing. The Democrats in the legislature aimed to turn those numbers around by creating more blue-leaning districts. Illinois wound up sending the 113th Congress 12 Democrats (+4) and 6 Republicans (-2). One technique was to concentrate-- dump-- Republican voters in a few districts, giving them big majorities in fewer districts and leaving them unable to impact the results in more swing districts that could go either way. (Notice that the inner-city Chicago districts suffer from their ailment already, but in reverse.) These are the Illinois PVI's today:
IL-01- Bobby Rush (D)- D+28- Chicago's Southside
IL-02- Robin Kelly (D)- D+29- Southside + Kankakee
IL-03- Dan Lipinski (D)- D+5- Southwest + near western 'burbs
IL-04- Luis Guitierrez (D)- D+29- north and southwest
IL-05- Mike Quigley (D)- D+16- North Side
IL-06- Peter Roskam (R)- R+4- Western 'burbs, Wheaton, Palatine
IL-07- Danny Davis (D)- D+36- Downtown
IL-08- Tammy Duckworth (D)- D+8- northwest 'burbs, Shaumburg
IL-09- Jan Schakowsky (D)- D+15- North Side, Evanston
IL-10- Robert Dold (R)- D+8- near northern 'burbs
IL-11- Bill Foster (D)- D+8- Joliet, Auroura
IL12- Mike Bost (R)- even- East St Louis, Carbondale
IL-13 Rodney Davis (R)- even- Champaign, Springfield
IL14- Randy Hultgren (R)- R+5- Chicago exurbs, Kendall County
IL-15- John Shimkus (D)- D+14- southeast Illinois, Danville
IL-16- Adam Kinzinger (R)- R+4- North Central Illinois, Rockford
IL-17- Cheri Bustos (D)- D+7- Rock Island, Peoria, Rockford
IL-18- Aaron Schock (R)- R+11- suburban Peoria + Springfield, Quincy
The gerrymander-- with Rahm Emanuel's paw prints all over the lines-- was drawn specifically to make the seats held by Republicans Bob Dold, Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, Judy Biggert, Don Manzullo and Tim Johnson vulnerable. They all lost (although Dold regained his seat in 2014).

Lazy and unmotivated 2012 was a disaster for Illinois Dems anyway. The delegation shifted to 10 Democrats and 7 Republicans, with the GOP taking all the close seats and even as strongly a blue seat as the D+8 10th district from weak New Dem Brad Schneider. In 2016, with Hillary at the top of the ticket, Illinois Democrats hope to pick off the easy three, Bost, Davis and Dold, and will once again ignore slightly more difficult races (Roskam, Kinzinger and Hultgren) and totally ignore the two massive GOP southern redoubts represented by Shimkus and young Aaron.

So we have a situation now where Schock is a virtual shoo-in. He began political life as an eager-beaver/over-achiever Eddie Haskell type who ran for the local school board as a write-in candidate a few months after graduating from high school and at 19 became the youngest person to ever serve on an Illinois school board. At 23 he was elected school board president, and that same year he ran for the state legislature and won. A friendly face of "compassionate conservatism," he consistently voted against the interests of his working family constituents but still managed to win reelection. In 2008 he ran for Congress and won convincingly with 59% of the vote.

From the the beginning Schock has played fast and loose with campaign finance laws and has often been in trouble with the House Ethics Committee for unscrupulous fundraising activities. Local media has protected him from exposure as a closeted gay person, something that has been whispered about in the district and is pretty out in the open in DC. Yesterday, Jack Gillum and Stephen Braun, writing for the AP, took the Schock scandals to the next level, although, again, because of the heavily gerrymandered district, he is almost immune from repercussions from the electorate. The AP guys didn't delve into every little nook and cranny-- like Schock's lustful relationship with Adam Kinzinger and his straight-out-of-the-Mafia shenanigans with Michael Grimm. And they left out the potentially most damaging charges against him, his acceptance of a gigantic bribe from a Caterpillar donor whose company he does special favors for. The bribe came in the form of a huge purchase price for a house Schock owned-- the price being two or three times the assessed value of the property, a little trick that backfired on Duke Cunningham some years ago and helped land him in federal prison.
Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, has spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, The Associated Press has found. There also have been other expensive travel and entertainment charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.

The expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors' planes since mid-2011.

The AP tracked Schock's reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman's penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock's office and campaign records.

Asked for comment, Schock responded in an email on Monday that he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district "to stay connected with my constituents" and also travels to raise money for his campaign committee and congressional colleagues.

He said he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his office's procedures "concerning this issue and others to determine whether they can be improved." The AP had been seeking comment from Schock's office since mid-February to explain some of his expenses.

Donors who owned planes on which travel was paid for by Schock's House and political accounts did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Schock's high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office after the TV show Downton Abbey, add to awkward perceptions on top of allegations he illegally solicited donations in 2012.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said in a 2013 report that there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules by soliciting campaign contributions for a committee that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a 2012 primary. The House Ethics Committee has said that query remains open.

"Haters are gonna hate," Schock, 33, told ABC News after the Downton Abbey story broke in the Washington Post, brushing off the controversy by invoking a line from one of pop singer Taylor Swift's songs.

Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. The earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.

Schock's House account paid more than $24,000 directly to a Peoria aviation firm for eight flights provided by one of Schock's donor's planes in 2011 and 2012. While the aircraft flies as part of an Illinois charter service, the owner of the service told the AP on Monday that any payments made directly to the donor's aviation company would not have been for charter flights.

Beyond air travel, Schock spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements-- among the highest in Congress-- and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.

The donor planes include an Italian-made Piaggio twin-engine turboprop owned by Todd Green of Springfield, Illinois, who runs car dealerships in Schock's district with his brother, Jeff. Todd Green told a Springfield newspaper that Jeff-- a pilot and campaign contributor-- and Schock have been friends for a long time.

The AP found that Green's plane traveled to at least eight cities last October in the Midwest and East Coast, cities where Schock met with political candidates ahead of the midterm elections. His Instagram account's location data and information from the service FlightAware even pinpointed Schock's location on a stretch of road near one airport before Green's plane departed.

Campaign records show a $12,560 expense later that month to Jeff Green from a political action committee associated with Schock, called the "GOP Generation Y Fund." That same month, the PAC paid $1,440 to a massage parlor for a fundraising event.

In November 2013, Schock cast votes in the Capitol just after Green's plane landed at nearby Reagan National Airport. Shortly after Green's return to Peoria, Schock posted a photo from his "Schocktoberfest" fundraising event at a brewery in his district. Schock billed his office account $11,433 for commercial transportation during that same, four-day period to a Peoria flight company, Byerly Aviation.

The AP's review covered Schock's travel and entertainment expenses in his taxpayer-funded House account, in his campaign committee and the GOP Generation Y Fund. Records show more than $1.5 million in contributions to the Generation Y Fund since he took office in 2009.

Schock used House office expenses to pay more than $24,000 for eight flights between May 2011 and December 2012 on a six-passenger Cessna Golden Eagle owned by D&B Jet Inc., run by Peoria agribusiness consultant and major Schock donor Darren Frye. While D&B is a private corporate aviation firm, it also flies with Jet Air Inc., an Illinois-based aviation firm licensed by the FAA for charter service.

Records show Schock used House funds to directly pay D&B instead of Jet Air for the eight flights. Under the old rules that previously allowed House funds to pay only for charter or commercial aircraft, Schock's office would likely not have been authorized to pay for private flights unless the House Ethics Committee approved it.

Harrel W. Timmons, Jet Air's owner, said in a telephone interview that any charter flights D&B flies through his firm are paid directly to Jet Air. "They've got their own corporate jet and pilot," he said.

House records also show that, since 2013, Schock has flown four times on a Cessna owned by Peoria auto dealer Michael J. Miller and businessman Matthew Vonachen, who heads a janitorial firm, Vonachen Services Inc. Schock's House office account paid nearly $6,000 total for the four flights, according to federal data published online by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

Under current House rules, the payments for the private flights would be authorized if they paid for Schock's portion of each flight. It is not clear from records how many other passengers flew on the same flights. USA Today on Friday first reported potential issues with House ethics rules in revealing some of the flights.

Vonachen and his family donated at least $27,000 to Schock's campaigns, while Miller contributed $10,000 to the Automotive Free International Trade PAC. Schock has supported recent free trade agreements with South Korea and with several other countries, which the Automotive PAC-- a Schock contributor-- lauded.

Schock's reliance on donor-owned planes and on his government allowance to pay for the flights mirrors the use by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of a private jet owned by a wealthy eye doctor and major donor. Prompted by an ethics investigation, Menendez reimbursed donor Salomon Melgen $58,500 for two flights.

GOP Generation Y paid more than $24,000 for tickets and festivals, including $13,000 to country music events, $4,700 in expenses to Chicago ticket broker, and $3,000 for a "fundraising event" to an organization that runs the Global Citizen Festival in New York.

"You can't say no when your boss invites you. Danced my butt off," one former intern posted on his Instagram account with a picture of Perry at her June 2014 show. PAC records show a $1,928 expense for the ticket service two months later, listing it only as a "PAC fundraising event."

Records show Schock also requested more than $18,000 in mileage reimbursements since 2013, among the highest in Congress. His office has previously said it was reviewing those expenses.
Even though young Aaron has nothing to worry about from his complacent Republican electorate or an utterly turgid DCCC, he is worried-- and doesn't want to wind up in a federal prison the way Cunningham did. He's lawyering up-- and it isn't Saul he figured he'd better call. On call so far: two prominent Washington defense attorneys, William McGinley and Don McGahn of Jones Day, and a public-relations firm led by veteran GOP communications operatives Ron Bonjean and Brian Walsh.
“After questions were first raised in the press, Congressman Schock took the proactive step of assembling a team to review the compliance procedures in his official office, campaign and leadership PAC,” a spokesman said. “The purpose of the review is to identify any areas that need improvement and to assist with designing and implementing any changes. The congressman takes his compliance obligations seriously which is why he took this proactive step to review these procedures.”

But his staff declined to answer more detailed questions about his activities.

Politico has repeatedly sought information regarding Schock’s trip in June 2011 to London. He stayed at Claridge’s, a five-star hotel where the least expensive rooms currently cost $500 per night. He was also scheduled to visit the city’s posh clothing stores, and dined at both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, according to the documents.

Would Lindsey Graham and Patrick McHenry be flower girls at a wedding between Aaron Schock and British Olympic driver Tom Daley?

The trip, which included events organized by the nonprofit Prince of Wales Foundation, was not an official government trip and was not reported as a gift. Schock’s office would not say whether he paid for it. If he personally covered the cost of the trip, Schock would not be required to disclose it.

...If the trip was approved by the Ethics Committee, Schock would then have had to disclose the itinerary and who paid for it both to the ethics panel and on his annual financial disclosure form. Schock did not report the trip.

If it was a political excursion, Schock could have used campaign funds. However, the London itinerary does not appear to involve any congressional or political activities.

According to the documents, Schock flew from Washington to London’s Heathrow Airport on June 16, 2011. He was joined by Shea Ledford, a longtime friend who is now on Schock’s payroll as a district special assistant [thought to be one of Schock's lovers].

Schock attended the Royal Ascot, a world-famous steeplechase race, followed by drinks with the then-U.S. Ambassador to England Louis Susman and his wife. He also was slated to visit Moss Bros. on Regent Street, one of the most famous men’s clothing stores in Europe, according to his schedule.

Schock also participated in a “Patron Dinner” at the posh members-only club Annabel’s and was invited to formal dinners at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.

Schock missed two days of votes during the trip.

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous BrianG said...

Great piece. One minor quibble. Congressman Shimkus is not a Democrat. He is a Republican. Congressman Rodney Davis was his Chief of Staff who won his district when the DCCC withheld their aid to Dr. David Gill.

Also, Schock's district hasn't had a Democrat representative since Woodrow Wilson. The closest any Democrat has come to winning a Congressional election was Doug Stephens in 1982, when during the depths of the Reagan Recession, he received 48% of the vote.

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This situation proves the Law of Unintended Consequences. Would this not indicate that the means of redistricting needs to be depoliticized? As the Democrats suffer serious difficulties in many states (cough Texas cough) because of gerrymandering, the outcome of many elections to come will reflect this unfair advantage. And, it didn't stop Illinois from electing that rat-bastard mistake of a governor, did it?

A better way needs to be resolved, even if districts are replaced by the at-large proportional representation such as parliamentary nations use. Had that been in place in 2014, the Dems would control the House today, and Boner (sic) can go cry in his contributor's Claret.


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