Schock Waves. Schock Jock. Sticker Schock. Schock and Awe.
Pundits and wordsmiths are having a field day with Peoria Congressman Aaron Schock, whose cavalier and apparently improper use of tax dollars and campaign cash for personal travel, entertainment and a laughable Capitol Hill office makeover has made him a poster child for a disease that infects a lot of tone-deaf politicians:
Chronic hubris, caused by excessive exposure to fawning aides and constituents; loose rules and lax oversight; a grandiose sense of entitlement, and unrealistic feelings of invincibility.
The Rx? Multiple investigations and a suddenly uncertain political future for one of the Republican Party’s rising stars.
Sadly, the problem goes well beyond Schock’s use of public and political funds for helicopter rides and private plane trips to football games, concerts and staff weekends; pricey meals and hotel rooms; and a D.C. office remodeled to resemble Downton Abbey.
He got caught, thanks to the dogged digging of Washington reporters, including the Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet.
But legions of public officials bend the rules without being detected or held accountable because there aren’t enough watchdogs shining a light on their alleged chicanery.
The Better Government Association’s reported on some of the flagrant examples, including:
- Campaign committees controlled by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, who’s also the county Democratic chairman, spending nearly $200,000 over five years on lavish dinners described on disclosure filings as “meetings.”
- Political funds managed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who doubles as head of the state Democratic Party, spending more than $900,000 over five years on tickets and expenses related to sporting events. A spokesman says most of the tickets were given away.
There’s no indication Illinois election officials followed up on our findings, and the overall paucity of penalties for questionable expenditures suggests most alleged transgressions are ignored.
Even the periodic enforcement is pretty lame — small fines or gentle slaps on the wrist that don’t scare anyone.
Election boards blame a lack of resources, but there’s also an apparent lack of will, and vague or poorly written laws filled with loopholes and escape hatches.
So we’re left with toothless tigers unable to cope with herds of gallivanting wildebeests.
And even the strongest recent case against local politicians who misused campaign cash — it led to prison sentences for ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife Sandi, the former alderman — is laced with irony:
The feds discovered the Jacksons’ misdeeds, almost as an aside, during an investigation that began with the ex-congressman’s interest in the U.S. Senate seat Barack Obama was vacating and former Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to barter after Obama was elected President in ’08.
In other words, if Blago didn’t have “this thing that’s f-in golden” — appointment power — the ambitious Jacksons might not have attracted the scrutiny of the FBI.
So let’s watch “L’affaire Schock” play out to its logical conclusion, with the congressman held appropriately accountable by authorities and constituents.
And at the same time, let’s push for tougher and less ambiguous campaign finance laws, and election boards with enough money, manpower and motivation to enforce the stronger laws.
If that happens, it truly will be “shock and awe” for reformers and watchdogs.
And, of course, satisfaction that we’ve taken another important step toward the better government we’re entitled to.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.
Photo: U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s Washington office / the Chicago Sun-Times