The Washington Post reported on Monday that Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) recently had his House office redecorated in the style of the popular television series Downton Abbey. But a detail in the post — the fact that the interior decorator who oversaw the design did so for free — may land the Congressman in ethical hot water.
According to the report, interior decorator Annie Brahler designed the plans for Schock’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building. “Brahler offered her services for free, according to Schock’s office, although he had to pay for the objects.” She also had designed his old Cannon House Office Building workspace.
House rules prohibit Members of Congress from accepting most gifts valued at $50 or more — including “gifts of services, training, transportation, lodging, and meals, whether provided in kind, by purchase of a ticket, payment in advance, or reimbursement after the expense has been incurred.”
Stephen Spaulding, policy counsel for the non-partisan Common Cause, told ThinkProgress that this donation of services from a professional decorator could well violate both the spirit and letter of the House gift rules: “It certainly raises plenty of questions that I think [Schock] needs to answer.”
“There’s been scandal after scandal of politicians accepting gifts and returning the favor,” Spaulding noted, “Here’s an interior designer, I don’t know if she has any business before Congress, but we expect our leaders to follow the rules and hold themselves to the highest standards.” He described this situation as an example of a politician “far more interested in the accoutrements of a nice office on Capitol Hill than in doing the peoples’ business.”
A spokesman for Schock did not immediately respond to a request for comment and a spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined to comment on any potential ethics issues resulting from the arrangement.
Downton Abbey, now in its fifth season, airs as part of PBS’s Masterpiece. But Schock has repeatedly voted against federal funding for public broadcasting, voting to defund National Public Radio and for a Paul Ryan budget that zeroed out all funds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, wrote that government dollars for public broadcasting could “no longer be justified.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington announced Tuesday that it had filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, asking them to investigate the arrangement. “Perhaps it’s not totally surprising that the same congressman who spent campaign money on P90X workout DVDs wanted to create a more picturesque setting in which to be photographed, but the rules clearly require him to pay for those renovations himself,” Interim Executive Director Anne Weismann said, “Again and again, Rep. Schock’s seeming obsession with his image impedes his ability to conduct himself in ethical manner.”
Schock told ABC News on Wednesday that he plans to pay Brahler out of his own pocket once the work is done.