An Illinois congressman was found to have used taxpayer and campaign funds on private plane travel, concert tickets, and other lavish expenses after the Associated Press cross-referenced his Instagram account against his flight records. Republican representative Aaron Schock, who is already facing several ethics probes, reportedly spent more than $40,000 on private air travel from 2011 onwards, and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry show in June last year, a $1,928 expense that he listed as a "PAC fundraising event."
Journalists took the location data from a number of pictures and videos Schock had uploaded to Instagram and correlated it with his flight records, using flight tracking service FlightAware to build a picture of where the congressman had traveled. In November 2013, for example, Schock was casting votes in the Capitol when a plane piloted by campaign donor Jeff Green landed at Washington's Reagan National Airport. A short time later, the congressman posted an Instagram picture from his "Schocktoberfest" fundraising event in Peoria, soon after Green's plane landed back in the Illinois city. Schock billed his office account $11,433 for travel during the period. In October 2014, Schock again paid Green thousands of dollars for air travel, expensing him a payment of $12,560 in the same month he also expensed $1,440 to a massage parlor for a "fundraising event."
Schock expensed $40,000 of private flights from 2011 onwards
While house representatives can now use office funds for private air travel, the law only changed in 2013, and the AP says the majority of Schock's flights took place when rules prohibited the use of campaign and taxpayer money for private flights. Investigations found that he had paid $24,000 for eight flights between May 2011 and December 2012, using the money to pay for travel using aircraft offered by campaign donors, without having secured authorization from the House Ethics Committee. Under the new rules, lawmakers can only cover their own share of a private flight with campaign money. The AP says it's not clear whether Schock's donor planes had any other passengers.
Schock, who the AP describes as "a rising Republican star," was the target of a 2013 report from the Office of Congressional Ethics that said there was reason to believe he had illegally solicited donations in 2012. He's also become somewhat infamous for enjoying the finer things in life. Earlier this month, the congressman was hit with two ethics complaints from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). One claimed that he had sold his house to a campaign donor for more than three times its value, and the other suggested he had accepted free decorating services to style his office to look like British TV show Downton Abbey. Schock, in response to the complaints, told ABC News that "haters gonna hate" — but the Illinois lawmaker has started hiring lawyers and PR experts.