Rep. Aaron Schock has officially resigned amid ongoing questions regarding his spending record. Schock, who has served as a Representative for Illinois for six years, will be handing over his seat at the end of the month.
Skepticism regarding Schock’s financial record began in February when the Washington Post discovered the Representative’s Downton Abbey themed office, and culminated last week when the Office of Congressional Ethics began to directly contact people associated with Schock.
While Politico regards this questioning as “a possible first sign of an official investigation,” Schock resigned without confirming or denying the allegations against him.
In an official statement, Schock claimed that “the constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for [him] to serve” his constituents, thus prompting his resignation.
Shock also surprised his fellow Republicans, as he resigned without alerting any party leadership of the decision beforehand. Speaker John Boehner said he was “stunned” after hearing the news, while the Sangamon County Republican Party’s chairwoman Rosemary Long said she “still can’t quite grasp it yet.”
The GOP’s “rising star” himself, however, was never a typical politician. In addition to landing a Men’s Health magazine cover, Schock had a star-studded Instagram where he often posted pictures of himself taking lavish trips and doing extreme sports.
In hindsight, it seems as though this meticulously crafted public image was also funded by the public’s money. Since February it has been revealed that Schock used donor money to pay for travel, photography and renovation expenses.
This spending totaled almost $300,000– and that number does not include the other $300,000 he used to build a new house in Peoria, or the reimbursements he received for gas.
While his resignation may have come to a surprise to his fellow politicians, in a broader sense it reflects some of the most broken parts of current campaign finance policy.
Despite his indiscretions, Schock is currently leaving office with over $3 million in campaign funding. Current campaign finance laws prohibit him from keeping it, however he may spend it at his discretion.
While Schock could give the money back to donors, he also has the options of donating it, giving it to the GOP, or even using it to pay for legal expenses. Alternatively, Schock “could hold on to the money in case he tries to make a political comeback.”
To Democrats, this is indicative of some of the central problems with the current state of campaign finance. In addition to preventing misuse of these funds, another hot topic regarding election spending is the notion of contribution limits.
Minority Leader Harry Reid has said that legislation which limits spending is “what we need to bring sanity back to elections and restore Americans’ confidence in our democracy” as it keeps “dark” money from influencing politicans.
Republicans, on the other hand, argue that restrictions on campaign spending/contributions also restrict the notion of free speech. Many members of the GOP support contribution limits that are either less regulated or completely unlimited.
Potential 2016 hopeful Ted Cruz said he believes “everyone here (in America) has a right to speak out in politics as effectively as possible,” and that constitutionally, “money absolutely can be (part of free) speech from Day One.”
Other members of the GOP mirror this statement, with Boehner saying just this week that he feels there are already “ample controls in place to deal with the allegations” Schock is facing and that more legislation is unnecessary.
Because the major parties hold such different views regarding campaign finance reform, proposing and passing new legislation on the matter is often contentious and always unpopular with at least one party.
Conversely, the majority of Americans are far less split in their opinions. According to ABC News, 80 percent of Americans have a “problem” with the current state of campaign finance, and 93 percent believe “politicians do special favors for their campaign contributors.”
However, while Americans are quite united in this regard, less than one percent of voters find election/election reform to be an important problem, according to a February Gallup poll.
This means that, despite feeling strongly on the matter, Americans simply do not prioritize campaign finance reform highly enough for politicians to scramble for compromise.
While there is no easy answer in sight, it is certainly important for politicians and the public alike to continue the conversation.