WASHINGTON — A decision by the House Ethics Committee to extend its review of allegations against U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, could prove damaging to his political future, says the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
Schock, the three-term congressman who has expressed interest in running for governor next year, was the target of an investigation conducted last year by the Office of Congressional Ethics which has been forwarded to the House ethics committee.
Normally the ethics committee either dismisses the case or recommends a full-scale investigation. But in Schock's case, according to a statement released earlier this week by the ethics committee, it chose "to extend the committee's review of the matter" indefinitely, adding that the review "does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee."
But the accusation of illegal campaign fundraising won't help Schock, said David Yepsen, head of the public policy institute at Southern Illinois University, and a former political writer for the Des Moines Register.
"This is not good for Congressman Schock. It could be the most innocent thing in the world, but as long as it's out there publicly that the ethics committee is looking at this and has some concerns, that's just a cloud over everything he does," said Yepsen. "Once this process starts, it can take a lot of time and can cast a pall over political plans. He now has to factor that into almost every decision he makes about running for higher office, running for re-election."
Yepsen continued: "He's entitled to his day in court and, unfortunately in this day we live in, the accusation sticks even though we later find that there's no wrongdoing. It's too bad because he may have done nothing wrong."
Schock now finds himself in the same predicament as three other congressmen who had Office of Congressional Ethics investigations turned over to the ethics committee — in one case more than a year ago — but which are still unresolved. All three ran for re-election last November, however, and won their races.
— Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., who was accused of using campaign funds in 2011 to pay for a trip to Scotland, for his daughter's travel to California and for a party at his home. Andrews won a 12th term last November in a heavily Democratic district.
— Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who allegedly failed to include in his financial disclosure statements positions he held with companies and organizations.
— Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., was accused of unwelcome sexual advances, sexual comments and unwelcome touching by a female staff member.
Yepsen said "it's unfortunate for members of Congress to have this hang out there. A common criminal has the right to a speedy trial.
"I think it's unfair to the members of Congress, but it's also unfair to the voters too. People are entitled to know whether their member of Congress is behaving ethically or not," he said.
Since being formed in 2008, the Office of Congressional Ethics has launched 101 investigations, including 32 in the last session of Congress (2011 and 2012).
The OCE investigation also touched newly elected U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, who the office said refused to cooperate with the investigation. Davis, whose congressional district includes Champaign-Urbana, allegedly helped Schock raise money — some of it illegally — for U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Manteno, in his primary election race last March against U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Egan.
The fundraising occurred before Davis was even a candidate for Congress. At the time he was on the political staff of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.