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The Politician Who Spent Taxpayer Money on His 'Downton Abbey'–Themed Office Just Resigned

Aaron Schock abruptly left Congress just hours after Politico asked him about his finances. Here's a look back at his spending habits.
March 17, 2015, 8:30pm

Aaron Shock (left), the newest former member of Congress. Photo via Wikipedia

Aaron Schock has a six-pack, a life that resembles a Mountain Dew commercial and the ability to slide into a selfie with Ariana Grande that's kind of shocking for a 33-year-old politician. But now, Politico is reporting, he no longer has a job. Just 12 hours after the news outlet asked the now-former Illinois state rep about gas reimbursements for his Chevy Tahoe, he resigned.

As Politico points out, this is just the latest in a slew of ethical fuck-ups plaguing Schock. Although he finally threw in the towel after getting caught billing the federal government for more miles than his car had on its odometer, in the past he's become famous for spending other people's money on luxuries befitting—alternately—a bored, TV-obsessed housewife and a cool dad.

About a month ago, a style reporter for the Washington Post stumbled upon an elaborately decorated office that stood out in a sea of drab eggshell white and beige. Schock's team went nuts when the reporter inquired about it and refused to comment—which makes sense now that we know how it was all paid for. It turned out he blew $35,000 of taxpayer money on things like that ugly-as-fuck office and (really) Katy Perry tickets for his interns.

Although he's since paid that money back, a separate story broke on March 2 that he had used more than $10,000 in taxpayer funds to jet set across the country, including one jaunt to a Chicago Bears game.

Federal law enforcement might open an investigation after his last day in Congress, on March 31, according to Politico. But though Schock's accounting practices might be, ahem, a little unusual, it's common practice for lawmakers to bill the government for various expenses. Last year, USA Today found that senators spent $1 million on chartered flights in 2013. And a while back Bloomberg reported on all the air travel perks the denizens of the Capitol building use on golf trips to Scotland and drunken dips in the Sea of Galilee, which makes an office decorated based on a TV show seem downright thrifty.

"Even if [what politicians blow money on] is legal, it's terrible from the optics standpoint," says Christopher Robichaud, a lecturer in ethics and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "And from the ethics standpoint, we happily have built in mechanisms—elections—to hold representatives accountable for poor use of public funds."

So basically, our only two options are to shame reckless pols into accountability or vote them out of office. And if we take New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a case study, the first one doesn't seem to be very effective.

In the past, Christie's billed $2,500-an-hour helicopter flights to his son's baseball games and taken extremely expensive trips to the Super Bowl. All of this has been covered by the media, and last fall his approval rating dipped to 41 percent.

But that didn't change his ways. In January, when news broke of the governor's rendezvous with Dallas Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones, the local press reported it, but no one seemed to think things would change.

Mary Landrieu hasn't been as lucky as Christie. The Louisiana Senator came under fire for reportedly spending $47,000 in 2013 on chartered flights, including one that cost $5,500 round trip and took her the very-drivable distance of 200 miles each way. In August of last year, she was called out again for taking a $3,200 flight with taypayer money, and she was voted out of office months after that.

If it's depressing to think about all the taxpayer money that helps fund legislators' lifestyles, Landrieu's and Schock's cases show that there are consequences to wasting public funds—at least, there are if you're really, really obvious about it.

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