WASHINGTON — In Congress barely a month, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, is mentioned in an ongoing investigation of possible illegal campaign fundraising by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria.
The investigation, however, has nothing to do with Davis' recent congressional campaign and instead is aimed at Davis' and Schock's fundraising activity in a Republican primary election last March.
According to the accusations by the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics, "Schock may have solicited contributions for an independent expenditure-only political committee in excess of $5,000 per donor, in violation of federal law, House rules, and standards of conduct" while raising money for Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, in his GOP primary race against Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Egan.
The board of the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended Wednesday that the House ethics committee review the allegations, contending "there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Schock violated federal law, House rules and standards of conduct."
Schock, who recently expressed interest in running for the Republican nomination for governor next year, has denied any wrongdoing.
Schock's spokesman, Steve Dutton, noted that the Office of Congressional Ethics often turns over cases to the ethics committee "that ultimately are dismissed because they are without merit.
"As our counsel's submissions to OCE and the ethics committee make clear, the complaint in this case is entirely without merit. 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. "We fully cooperated with the OCE review, and we will continue to cooperate as the ethics committee now conducts its own review."
It's unclear what the 10-member House Committee on Ethics, whose membership includes no one from Illinois, will do with the case. It released a statement Wednesday saying it had agreed "to extend the committee's review of the matter," which has been under way since last April.
Unless there is a resolution to the issue by later this year, extending the investigation could damage Schock's plans to run for governor next year, or even his possible campaign for re-election to the House.
Likewise, it could prove damaging to the freshman Davis, who defeated Democrat David Gill by just 1,002 votes in November.
The Office of Congressional Ethics has not charged Davis with any wrongdoing, but it says that he refused to cooperate with its investigation and recommends that he be subpoenaed in the probe. The OCE does not have subpoena power.
"The OCE requested information from Mr. Davis to determine whether Representative Schock had any involvement in soliciting contributions in excess of $5,000 from these donors or any other potential donors," said the 166-page OCE report released Wednesday. "Mr. Davis refused to cooperate with the OCE."
The report said that "the OCE draws a negative inference from Mr. Davis' refusal to cooperate with the OCE. The OCE infers that the information Mr. Davis refused to provide, taken together with the factual findings in this referral, supports the conclusion that there is substantial reason to believe that the alleged violation occurred."
Davis is part of the investigation because he was described as a contact between the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Houston-based superPAC, and Schock's effort to raise money on behalf of Kinzinger. At the time, Davis was on the campaign staff of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collnsville, and was doing work for the Illinois Republican Party.
All of the contacts occurred in March 2012, before Davis was chosen by Republican county chairmen to be the party's congressional candidate after U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, announced that he was dropping out of the race.
A staffer for the Campaign for Primary Accountability said that Davis was the contact for five major donations in March 2012 for ads opposing Manzullo — $25,000 from the 18th District Republican Central Committee, $25,000 for Rep. Eric Cantor's Every Republican is Crucial PAC, $5,000 from the American College of Radiology PAC and $35,000 from someone identified as "Donor 1" and $30,000 from a "Donor 2."
The CPA staffer, identified as a development coordinator, said that she knew Davis to be affiliated with Cantor's PAC and the 18th District committee, according to the OCE.
But a witness identified only as "Representative 1" — but who is clearly Cantor because he is identified as a congressman who is affiliated with the ERIC PAC and told of its policies — said he did not know Davis until after March 2012.
And Schock, who also was interviewed by the OCE, said "he does not remember Mr. Davis asking him to contribute to CPA."
Davis, in a statement released by his office, stressed that he is not the target of the investigation.
"This report is not focused on me and does not state, or even imply, that I did anything wrong," he said. "Indeed, as the 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."
Davis did not answer why he refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Coincidentally, both Davis and Schock are scheduled to attend Saturday's Champaign County Republican Party Lincoln Day Luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign. The event will feature former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., as the keynote speaker.