House

Schock wants campaign finance charges dropped

Former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who has been indicted on two-dozen fraud-related charges, wants a federal court to dismiss five counts on the falsifying of campaign finance records.

His lawyers at McGuireWoods argue that the charges infringe on his constitutional rights, including rights to due process, by using an anti-obstruction law to prosecute him for the alleged falsification of campaign expenses. 

As a candidate and member of Congress, Schock “caused less than two handfuls of false entries to be made among hundreds in the records of certain political committees and among the scores of the disclosure reports that those committees filed with the [Federal Election Commission] in the ordinary course of business,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing late last week.

Schock’s legal team says that the Justice Department has been attempting to play in a “gotcha game” by “inventing” reporting requirements “after the fact.”

{mosads}“The basis of those charges is not that the FEC found the descriptions of those expenditure inaccurate — it did not,” Schock’s lawyers say. “Rather, the government’s theory is that those descriptions did not meet reporting standards that were crafted by prosecutors for purposes of this prosecution and never publicly disclosed.”

Schock’s spending came under the microscope after a reporter saw his remodeled congressional office, which was reportedly designed after the show Downton Abbey at a $40,000 price tag.

He has been accused of using both campaign funds and government funds for the benefit of himself and others.

When the government handed Schock a sweeping 24-count indictment last year, it called into question several expenses billed to his campaign account, a joint fundraising account he had with the Republican Party and his leadership PAC, GOP Generation Y Fund, which contributed money to other members and candidates.

Charges 14 through 18 — the ones his lawyers want dropped — deal with accusations that Schock used his political fundraising committees for personal purchases, which he then had labeled as campaign or fundraising expenses.

One of the charges, for example, targets four Super Bowl tickets purchased with the Illinois Republican joint fundraising account, Schock Victory Committee. 

On federal filings, the $10,025 expense was listed as “[Joint Fundraising Committee] Tickets,” and went straight to Schock’s personal bank account. The Justice Department alleges that the then-lawmaker flipped the tickets — earning a near $2,000 profit — and kept the entire sum. 

The other campaign finance-related charges list examples like purchasing a new Chevrolet Tahoe, billing for mileage expenses that went way over the miles driven and helping fund the legal fees of a staffer.

Rather than prosecute Schock for violating campaign finance laws, such as the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Justice Department has cited the former lawmaker with violating an anti-obstruction statute. 

That law is meant to go after individuals who try to alter, destroy or falsify records or documents to “impede, obstruct or influence” an investigation or the “proper administration” within an agency — part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law that came about in the wake of the Enron scandal. 

If convicted of the charges under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Schock could face up to 20 years in jail.

His lawyers are calling it an “unprecedented expansion” of the provision “to routine filings with the Federal Election Commission,” in part because the felony counts would be a dramatic increase in the maximum sentencing guidelines outlined in laws governing campaign finance disclosures, which are often misdemeanors.

“If allowed, that substitution would leave every politician, whether aspiring or incumbent, vulnerable to indictment because, according to one of 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country, they made the wrong choice in how to characterize an otherwise legitimate campaign expenditure,” Schock’s lawyers wrote in the court filing to dismiss the charges.

This would have chilling effect on free speech, the defense continues. 

Last month, lawyers for Schock filed a motion to compel the government to turn over more information regarding its use of a confidential informant. According to the documents, the FBI wired up one of Schock’s staffers, while he was still in office, and had him record conversations and pass along documents to investigators.

Last week, the Justice Department responded, urging the court to reject the request. 

In its filing, the government says it has already turned over more information than is legally required — the Justice Department cites more than 5 terabytes in files, equal to more than 7,500 CDs  — and has offered two people to work nearly full-time, including weekends, with the defense on the discovery process.

In a recorded conversation last February, almost a year after he stepped down from Congress, Schock “wanted to discuss and attempted to suggest an inaccurate account of one of the specific matters now charged in the indictment,” the Justice Department said. “He further referred to his campaign accounts as ‘three million of my money.’ ”

Other recordings have Schock acknowledging that his bookkeeping was sloppy, a defense his lawyers have also been using since the indictment. 

Schock also faces charges of mail and wire fraud, falsifying tax returns, theft of government funds and making false statements.

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