Elected: 2008, 4th term.
Born: May 27, 1981, Morris, MN
Education: Bradley U., B.S. 2001
Professional Career: Founder, GarageTek, 2001-03; Dir. of devel. & construction, Petersen Co., 2007; Real estate investor/developer, 2001-present.
Republican Aaron Schock, who was elected in 2008, is the first member of Congress born in the 1980s. He has drawn more notice for his buff physique -- and, more recently, his office-decorating tastes and lifestyle -- than his legislative work, but sought to make a name for himself on trade and tax reform issues. However, an accumulation of well-publicized controversies involving his use of taxpayer money led him to announce on March 17, 2015 that he would resign at the end of the month.
Ambitious as a child—Schock started his own Individual Retirement Account at 14 and amassed $18,000 working in a gravel pit in high school—he graduated from Bradley University with a finance degree in just two years. While still in college, Schock decided to challenge the sitting Peoria school board president because the board had refused to let him graduate early. The incumbent challenged Schock’s petition signatures, and he was disqualified. Undeterred, Schock staged a write-in campaign and went door-to-door to campaign. On Election Day, he won with 60% of the vote. After two years, he was elected vice president of the board, and the following year, at 23, was unanimously elected school board president. Schock didn’t stop at local politics. In 2004, he mounted a campaign against eight-year incumbent Democratic state Rep. Ricca Slone, in a district rated as 60% Democratic. He argued that her liberal votes stopped jobs from coming to the district. Schock was outspent but, relying on the same grassroots outreach that had made his school board campaigns successful, won again.
In the Illinois General Assembly, Schock passed several bills in his first five months in office, including reforms in disability testing for students in elementary schools and a change in the way colleges report eligibility of transfer courses. Schock also worked on identity theft, prescription drug affordability, and road construction issues. He was also an outspoken opponent of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s economic policies.
When GOP Rep. Ray LaHood announced his retirement in July 2007 after seven terms, Schock quickly made plans to run for the open seat. He met with LaHood in mid-August to seek his support, and LaHood gave him the names of county chairmen to contact. Shortly afterward, LaHood learned his son was considering running for the seat, and so he called the chairmen to ask that they stay neutral, only to learn Schock had already received 11 endorsements. LaHood’s son decided not to run.
During the campaign, Schock made some missteps. In November 2007, he called for China to impose sanctions on Iran in an effort to stop its nuclear program and, if it refused, for the United States to sell nuclear weapons to Taiwan. His two opponents in the Republican primary criticized him sharply and LaHood said the remark showed immaturity. Schock later said that his statement was not meant to underscore China’s importance in dealing with Iran. In any case, he won the February 2008 primary with 71% of the vote.
In the general election, he did not shy away from President George W. Bush, as many other Republicans did that year, and even invited him to a summer fundraiser that brought in $700,000. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, from the neighboring 14th District, endorsed Schock as “the embodiment of the kind of candidates the Republican Party needs to win again.” His opponent, former television news reporter Colleen Callahan, was selected by the state Democratic Party to run after the withdrawal of primary winner Dick Versace, the former Bradley University men’s basketball coach.
Schock raised $2.6 million to Callahan’s $624,000. Callahan ran ads criticizing Schock after he was investigated for possibly backdating tax documents when serving as a notary public for his father. Two weeks before the election, the Peoria County state’s attorney dropped the case. Schock won 59%-38%, losing only one county.
He arrived in Washington with near-instant celebrity as the new “Generation Y” congressman, parlaying his youth into positive stories in the media and television appearances. Attractive and unmarried, he was featured in a four-page fashion spread in the September 2009 GQ and was grilled about his abs on The Colbert Report comedy show. He posed shirtless for the cover of Men’s Health in 2011 to promote a “Fit for Life” campaign in connection with NBC-TV’s Today show. Asked on the NPR quiz show "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me!" about being named "hottest congressman," he responded: “Well, there’s definitely worse things to be voted.”
His positive public image took a hit in December 2012, however, with news reports that he was the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee for reportedly soliciting a $25,000 contribution from Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s political action committee to fund a super PAC that successfully backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a March primary. Federal officeholders are limited to seeking a maximum of $5,000 for a super PAC.
Lobbying for a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Schock said he raised over $300,000 for the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2010 election season. Once on the panel, he said his priority would be simplification of the tax code. He also introduced a flurry of legislation, ranging from a bill to ban signs showing where work is done using economic stimulus money (signs that stand to benefit President Barack Obama) to providing tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed veterans. He also promoted the use of renewable energy and biofuels, and advocated an increase in ethanol blend limits.
Schock has been reelected easily. But in early 2015, he began drawing significant attention for multiple things for which he would have preferred remained out of the spotlight. First came a Washington Post article about the lavish redecoration of his House office in the style of the popular television series Downton Abbey. Although the decorator told the newspaper that she had offered her services for free, Schock later repaid the government $35,000 from his personal funds to cover the costs. USA Today reported that Schock had spent more $100,000 than of his taxpayer-funded account on renovations in earlier years.
Then Schock's communications director, Benjamin Cole -- who had gotten into a tiff with the Post over the redecorating story -- resigned after it was discovered that he had made racially insensitive comments on Facebook. Schock's problems continued to pile up: A liberal blog reported that Schock sold his Peoria home to Ali Bahaj of the Caterpillar construction-vehicle company for more than three times the property's assessed value. And several news outlets delved into his overseas travel and found that he may have improperly used political and taxpayer funds to fly on private planes, leading the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to file a complaint.
Despite the toll such revelations took on Schock's image in Washington, they didn't necessarily spell immediate doom back home, said Doug Wilson, a columnist for the Quincy Herald-Whig. "Even Schock's most committed opponents realize voters won't be casting ballots for about 20 months," Wilson wrote in February. "In addition, he has been winning elections by about a 70-30 split, so it would take a big movement by voters to create a crisis for Schock. This month's news does not represent such a crisis."
The problem, for Schock, was that the news didn't end. Various outlets, including Politico, The Peoria Journal-Star and Associated Press, found a pattern of eyebrow-raising behavior, including a real estate deal in which a shell company linked to Schock paid a donor $750,000 for a warehouse, then took out a $600,000 mortgage for the property from a local bank run by other donors. The AP said the Office of Congressional Ethics had started contacting Schock's associates in an apparent start to an investigation.
After Politico published a report raising questions about whether he was improperly reimbursed for thousands of dollars in mileage on his personal vehicle, Schock announced his resignation, effective March 31. "The constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” he said in a statement.