SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – A Chicago lawyer filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against former Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock on Wednesday, saying he was tricked into believing the young congressman was “a breath of fresh air” in a corruption-prone state but who instead intended to collect campaign money for personal use.
The unusual lawsuit filed by Howard Foster, who donated $500 to Schock’s campaign in 2012, invokes memories of 150 years of Illinois political corruption, from a pre-Civil War governor caught cashing in on a 19th century canal to ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. serving a recent prison term for misusing campaign funds.
Schock, a 33-year-old Republican from Peoria, had been a money-raising machine with millennial appeal before his spending – including redecorating his Washington office in the style of Downton Abbey – came under scrutiny. He resigned from Congress last month and is now under federal investigation following media reports about lavish spending and alleged improper mileage reimbursements.
A spokesman for Schock declined comment on Wednesday.
The former congressman had $3.35 million in three campaign committees at the end of 2014, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Foster is seeking class-action status for his lawsuit, though he is the only plaintiff thus far. Foster donated to Schock in April 2012 after numerous fundraising letters to his home, part of his “racketeering activing,” according to the suit.
Foster anted up “because he believed Mr. Schock was ethical, a breath of fresh air in Illinois politics, and had a bright future in Congress,” the lawsuits states. “However, the opposite was true, and while Schock may have been a new, young face in Congress, he willingly followed well-tread paths of political sleaze for personal gain.”
Richard Hasen, an election-law expert at the University of California-Irvine, said he’s never seen such a lawsuit. He was skeptical it would succeed but isn’t ruling it out.
“To the extent a campaign contribution is like a gift, this may limit the remedies available,” Hasen said Tuesday.
Foster’s attorney, Steve Berman, said the former congressman told the public following his resignation that he would “work tirelessly” to make amends to those he let down.
“We believe this lawsuit gives him the golden opportunity to do just that, and we look forward to seeing every penny returned to campaign contributors who believed the false statements Schock was spoon-feeding his supporters,” the Seattle-based lawyer said in a prepared statement.
The lawsuit cites the Downton Abbey redecoration, the beginning of Shock’s troubles, as an example of Shock’s lack of integrity.
The redecoration didn’t involve campaign funds. It was initially reported as free compliments of a Jacksonville, Illinois, designer, then charged to official office expenses, and then reimbursed by Schock personally.