Panel recommends ethics probe of Schock

Congressional investigators have recommended a full House Ethics Committee probe of Rep. Aaron Schock for allegedly soliciting contributions of more than $5,000 for a political action committee to help an Illinois colleague engaged in a bitter primary battle last year, records released today showed.

Moreover, the Office of Congressional Ethics also listed Rep. Rodney Davis, elected last November as a new GOP congressman from southern Illinois, as a "non-cooperating witness" in its investigation into how funds flowed into the PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

Among the PAC's top funders is Joe Ricketts, whose family's trust was used to buy the Chicago Cubs.

In releasing the investigatory report on Schock, the House Ethics Committee had no comment "pending completion of its initial review."

Schock, a four-year Republican from Peoria who is considering a run for Illinois governor next year, has denied any wrongdoing. His attorneys had urged congressional investigators to drop their probe, contending that the "novel campaign finance law questions" they raised would be more appropriate for the Federal Election Commission to examine.

Under an FEC advisory opinion, lawmakers can solicit donations of up to $5,000 for independent expenditure political action committees. Schock's attorneys contended the lawmaker's actions had nothing to do with his role as a House member and that his communications did not fit the definition of "solicitation" under the FEC's regulations.

"The release by the Ethics Committee of this report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) is just one more step in the long process of adjudicating ethics complaints that can be submitted by anyone for any reason," Steve Dutton, Schock's communications director, said in a statement.

"There are many cases that OCE refers 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.

Schock has been under investigation for urging House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor to shift $25,000 from his leadership PAC to the Campaign for Primary Accountability to assist Rep. Adam Kinzinger in his March 2012 GOP primary victory over Rep. Donald Manzullo in the state's new 16th District.

But investigators said that between March 14 and March 17 — three days before the primary contest, the Campaign for Primary Accountability received at least $115,000 in contributions "as a result of the efforts of Representative Schock and his campaign committee."

In addition to Cantor's leadership PAC, the 18th District GOP central committee donated $25,000. Other donors investigators cited were David Herro, a wealthy money manager from Chicago who gave $35,000, and Anne Dias Griffin, who gave $30,000. Dias Griffin is a Chicago hedge fund manager and founder of Reboot Illinois, a GOP-oriented social media operation.

"During the same four-day time period, CPA made independent expenditures totaling approximately $130,000 to oppose Representative Manzullo including television and radio commercials," the report from the Office of Congressional Ethics said.

Investigators said Schock maintained he never requested the $25,000 from the GOP committee in his central Illinois 18th District, but they noted his chief of staff and campaign director were heavily tied to the fund.

Cantor, who supported Kinzinger's bid over Manzullo in northwestern Illinois, told investigators Schock asked whether he would give $25,000 to a super PAC operating in the Kinzinger race. Cantor said he would give the money to the PAC, investigators said.

Schock told investigators that when he asked Cantor for the money, it was "DC speak" for asking the House majority leader to come up with $25,000 in various ways — not necessarily in a single donation from his leadership fund.

Herro told investigators, according to their report, that Schock contacted him and asked him to help in the contest. But Herro said he did not remember Schock asking for a specific dollar amount.

Dias Griffin said she was contacted by Herro to make a donation to the PAC and did not discuss contributing with Schock.

The investigatory panel said Davis, who was formerly a staffer for Republican U.S. Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville until his election in November to Congress, was a "non-cooperating" witness. Davis, investigators said, helped steer money to the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

Also listed as "non-cooperating witnesses" by investigators were Michael Bigger, chairman of the 18th District Central GOP committee, and Rob Collins, a former chief of staff to Cantor, the report said.