Rep. Aaron Schock’s, R-Ill., recent flap about his "Downton Abbey"-inspired office decor is not his first run-in with ethics watchdogs. The House Ethics Committee still has a referral into Schock’s actions from March 2012. This case stems from an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation that found he may have improperly solicited contributions for an anti-incumbent super PAC.
In an April 6, 2012, Roll Call story , Schock explained he had approached former Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in March 2012 and requested a contribution for the Campaign for Primary Accountability to pay for television advertising in support of Rep. Adam Kinzinger in his primary challenge to Rep. Don Manzullo. Schock told CQ Roll Call, “I said, ‘Look, I’m going to do $25,000 [specifically] for the Kinzinger campaign for the television campaign,’ and said, ‘Can you match that ?’” “And he said, ‘Absolutely.’” In four days, from March 14 to March 17, 2012, CPA received contributions of at least $115,000 as a result of the efforts of Schock and his campaign committee, Schock for Congress. During the same four-day time period, CPA made independent expenditures totaling approximately $130,000 to oppose Manzullo, including television and radio commercials, according to the OCE report.
Fast forward to this week. Following Ben Terris' story in The Washington Post on Schock's office decor, Citizens for Responsible Ethics in Washington filed a formal complaint with OCE alleging that Schock violated House gift rules by receiving free interior decorating services and improperly used campaign funds to pay for office design and furniture.
Congressional office decorations can run the gamut from interesting to mundane. There are not ethics-specific rules about decorating congressional offices, only about purchasing furniture and services to do so. What's of interest in the "Downton Office" scenario are the ethics of having interior decorator, Annie Brahler of Euro Trash , work for free. On Wednesday afternoon, The Washington Post reported that Schock intends to pay the decorator for her work.
Restrictions of the House of Representatives’ gift rule do not apply to “[a]nything for which the [official] pays the market value” (House Rule XXV, clause 5(a)(3)(A)). In Schock’s case, it appears that the “free” services provided by the designer may have been provided at a discount. CQ Roll Call reached out to Brahler to find out if the “free services” were in line with market value, though she did not respond to a request for comment. Interior decorators sometimes waive service fees with an agreement that the customer would purchase materials through them, as Schock appeared to do.
Schock’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Hannah Hess contributed to this report. Correction 6:19 p.m. A previous version of this article misstated Cantor's position when he was approached by Schock. He was majority leader.
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