Ethics office recommends full probe of Rep. Schock
(MCT) — CHICAGO — Congressional investigators recommended a full House Ethics Committee probe of Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., for allegedly soliciting contributions of more than $5,000 for a political action committee to help an Illinois colleague engaged in a bitter primary battle last year, a report released Wednesday showed.
Moreover, the report from the Office of Congressional Ethics also said Rep. Rodney Davis, elected last November as a new Republican congressman from southern Illinois, was a “noncooperating witness” in its investigation into how funds flowed into the PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability.
Among the PAC’s top funders is Joe Ricketts, whose family’s trust was used to buy the Chicago Cubs.
The investigatory report, approved on a 6-0 vote by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics in August, said “there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Schock violated federal law, House rules, and standards of conduct.” The House Ethics Committee, which released the report Wednesday, said it had no comment pending completion of its own initial review.
Schock, a third-term Republican from Peoria who is considering a run for Illinois governor next year, has denied any wrongdoing. But the House Ethics Committee review could cast a cloud over any Schock bid for governor, an office that was mired in corruption that sent two previous governors — Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich — to federal prison.
Under a Federal Election Commission advisory opinion, lawmakers can solicit donations of up to $5,000 for independent-expenditure political action committees. Schock’s attorneys contended the lawmaker’s actions had nothing to do with his role as a House member and that his communications did not fit the definition of “solicitation” under the FEC’s regulations. Schock’s attorneys had urged congressional investigators to drop their probe, contending that the “novel campaign finance law questions” they raised would be more appropriate for the FEC to examine.
“The release by the Ethics Committee of this report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is just one more step in the long process of adjudicating ethics complaints that can be submitted by anyone for any reason,” Steve Dutton, Schock’s communications director, said in a statement.
“We remain firmly convinced that Congressman Schock will be exonerated when the Ethics Committee examines the complaint and in due course resolves this matter,” Dutton said.
Schock has been under investigation for urging House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor to shift $25,000 from his leadership PAC to the Campaign for Primary Accountability to assist Rep. Adam Kinzinger in his GOP primary victory over Rep. Donald Manzullo in the state’s new 16th District on March 20, 2012.
Investigators said that from March 14 to March 17, the Campaign for Primary Accountability received at least $115,000 in contributions “as a result of the efforts of Representative Schock and his campaign committee.”
In addition to Cantor’s leadership PAC, Illinois’ 18th District GOP central committee donated $25,000. Other donors investigators cited were David Herro, a wealthy money manager from Chicago who gave $35,000, and Anne Dias Griffin, who gave $30,000. Dias Griffin is a Chicago hedge fund manager and founder of Reboot Illinois, a social media operation.
“During the same four-day time period, CPA made independent expenditures totaling approximately $130,000 to oppose Rep. Manzullo, including television and radio commercials,” the Office of Congressional Ethics report said.
Investigators said Schock maintained he never requested the $25,000 from the GOP committee in his central Illinois 18th District, but they noted that his chief of staff and campaign director were connected to the fund.
Schock’s campaign director is his sister, Tania Hoerr, who, according to FEC reports, lives in Peoria and draws a salary for her work. Hoerr told investigators she was directed to make the 18th District GOP donation by Steve Shearer, Schock’s chief of staff.
Cantor, who supported Kinzinger’s bid over Manzullo in a primary matchup of GOP incumbents caused by redistricting, told investigators that Schock asked whether he would give $25,000 to a super PAC operating in the Kinzinger race. Cantor said he agreed to give the money to the PAC, investigators said.
Schock told investigators that when he asked Cantor for the money, it was “D.C. speak” for asking the House majority leader to come up with $25,000 in various ways — not necessarily in a single donation beyond the $5,000 solicitation limit from his leadership fund.
Herro told investigators, according to their report, that Schock contacted him and asked him to help in the contest. But Herro said he did not remember Schock asking for a specific dollar amount.
Dias Griffin said she was contacted by Herro to make a donation to the PAC and did not discuss contributing with Schock.
The investigatory panel said Davis, who was formerly a staffer for Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville until his election in November to Congress, was a “noncooperating” witness. Davis, investigators said, helped steer money to the Campaign for Primary Accountability.
In a statement, Davis downplayed his inclusion in the report.
“This report is not focused on me and does not state, or even imply, that I did anything wrong,” Davis said “Indeed, as today’s House Committee on Ethics press release emphasized, the release of the report does not indicate that any wrongdoing occurred or reflect any judgment by the committee whatsoever.”
Also among those listed as “noncooperating witnesses” by investigators were Michael Bigger, chairman of the 18th District Central GOP committee and the committee’s treasurer; Paul Kilgore, who also was listed as treasurer of the Schock Victory Fund. Rob Collins, a former chief of staff to Cantor, also did not cooperate as a witness, the report said.
The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended subpoenas be issued to obtain the testimony of Davis, Bigger, Kilgore and Collins. Unlike the congressional ethics office, the House Ethics Committee has the power to subpoena documents and witnesses and compel testimony under oath.
If the committee determines a lawmaker has committed wrongdoing, it may send the lawmaker a letter of reproval, akin to a rebuke, or it may recommend to the full House that the lawmaker be fined, reprimanded, censured or expelled.