- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015



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February 28, 2015

Chicago Tribune

The trouble with Aaron Schock

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week has turned into his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month.

The liberal-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington, news outlet Politico and The Associated Press have been questioning the Peoria Republican’s use of private aircraft and two overseas trips in 2011 - one to the Royal Ascot horse races near London and one to Saudi Arabia. Neither trip was reported on Schock’s required ethics forms. He also may have skipped reporting an in-kind contribution for a luxurious golf fundraiser in Maryland that included massages, fancy shirts and personalized cigars.

There’s more, but the main issue with the newest revelations is this: They aren’t new.

Since his arrival in Washington in 2009, Schock has drawn attention for his luxurious travels, which he documents on social media sites such as Instagram. His fetching photos while surfing, tango dancing and mingling with superstars have long been the buzz in political circles. Some of the trips are personal vacations, paid out of his own pocket. He needs to show there were clear ethical lines with this travel. Many members of Congress disguise vacations as campaign-related or work-related by attending lightly scheduled conferences or having outside groups pay for their trips. Lawmakers are required to report those trips, too, on ethics forms.

A recent revelation that Schock used taxpayer money for $40,000 worth of decorations to his “Downton Abbey”-style Washington office invited a deeper dig into his campaign fund and office budget. Of course, this was after he used campaign funds in 2009 for a hotel in Greece, which he later repaid, and routinely used campaign funds for travel expenses including, in one case, a flight on a seaplane at an exotic locale. Those expenses are allowed under campaign finance rules as long as the trips are campaign-related.

In the latest examples reported by Politico and others, Schock and two guests flew to London in 2011 for horse racing and events at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and enjoyed an evening at a trendy nightclub. It’s unclear who paid for the trip. Schock has not answered questions about it.

He also apparently did not report a 2011 trip to Saudi Arabia, financed by that country’s tourism commission, and he has repeatedly traveled on the private jets of campaign donors, raising questions about conflicts of interest. No answers from him on those either.

Congressional ethics rules are strict about members receiving gifts. Members are not supposed to accept any gift that exceeds $50. There are strict rules about how campaign funds can be spent. Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison for charges stemming from misuse of campaign funds.

As for Schock pulling the “youth” card in explaining himself: Being young doesn’t mean you get to flout House ethics rules. Oh, and at age 33 - we hate to break it to him - he’s not a kid. He’s been around politics long enough to know better.

Schock seems to forget he’s a public servant representing central Illinois. He needs to offer a full, transparent and public defense of these adventures. If he wants to be a jet-setter and the strictures of Congress are too weighty, we’re certain there’s a long line of constituents ready to take his place and focus on central Illinois.


March 1, 2015

Rockford Register Star

Rockford gets another chance at a casino

It’s a sure sign that spring is on the way when there’s legislation in Springfield that would allow Rockford to have a casino.

It’s the city’s version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” except there’s never been a happy ending. There has been talk of a casino in Rockford ever since riverboats opened for business in the 1990s.

We’ve supported having a casino here and were part of the Rockford Casino Coalition in 2011. We still do, but our enthusiasm has waned a bit because of all the near misses and because of the proliferation of video gaming in Illinois.

Then-Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed bills twice that would have added casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Chicago’s south suburbs and Lake County. Gov. Bruce Rauner said during the campaign that he does not favor expanded gambling. However, given the state’s financial picture, he could change his mind.

The most recent incarnation of the attempt to bring a casino here, House Bill 3564, does not specifically designate a casino for Rockford; it merely mentions Winnebago County. Given decades worth of tries, it’s fairly obvious that Rockford would be the preferred site.

The legislation allows for five casinos across the state, including Chicago. It also allows racetracks to have slot machines. That huge influx of new places to place a bet is sure to see opposition from a variety of people and organizations.

Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association, is one of them. Last year he wrote the op-ed “Time to put the brakes on gaming expansion.”

Although the state and local governments saw tax revenue from video gambling more than double last year, casino revenues fell nearly $87 million in 2014. Swoik said video gaming cut into his business.

Video gambling generated $1 million in tax revenue for Rockford in 2014, which made the city No. 1 in Illinois in video gaming revenue.

Does that indicate an appetite for more gambling here, or does it indicate a market already saturated?

Sen. Dave Syverson thinks it’s the former. He points out that $1 billion leaves Illinois and is gambled in other states. A border community such as Rockford could keep some of that money on this side of the state line.

A casino would add at least 400 construction jobs and would pump $7 million to $12 million a year into the local economy. That’s a good reason to hope that this is the year Rockford finally cashes in on casino legislation.


March 1, 2015

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Springfield renews assault on transparency

Republican state Rep. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford has filed House Bill 261. If passed, it would end the publication of all public notices in newspapers in favor of government websites. The legislation states when a governmental unit is required to provide notice by publication in a newspaper by law, order of court, or contract, the governmental unit may publish the notice on an official government website instead of in a newspaper.

You might recall a similar assault on transparency occurred in 2011, when a similar bill was filed. It was unsuccessful.

Proponents of the bill say it would save governments money. The trade-off might seem sensible, but a closer look exposes the legislation for what it is: a stealthy assault on open government under the guise of saving money. Newspapers, of course, have a vested interest in this matter: The bill would take revenue from most newspapers.

For decades, however, public notices have been printed in newspapers for a good reason: to provide the greatest verifiable public exposure for the money spent. (Public notices are billed at a discounted ad rate, by the way.)

The audience provided by a local newspaper dwarfs the number of readers on a local government website. The legislation’s flaws become more apparent with the realization many people still don’t use or have access to the Internet, especially the poor, the elderly, minorities and the disabled.

Ample proof exists that local governments blatantly disregard the law when it comes to posting information online. A recent audit conducted by the Citizens Advocacy Center studied more than 750 public body websites in Illinois. In cases where local governments already are required by law to post information on their websites, the compliance rates were abysmal. Only 73 percent complied with posting notice of upcoming meetings, a mere 57 percent complied with posting proposed meeting agendas and less than half - 48 percent - complied with posting approved meeting minutes.

And remember Illinois has an excessive number of taxing bodies. Citizens would have to check each one to monitor legal ads, which provide notice of such things as public meetings, budget hearings and government expenditures. That’s much less efficient for the public than having a one-stop source for public notices - the local newspaper.

HB 261 is sitting in the House Counties & Township Committee. That’s where it should die. The bill is a risky step backward for the interests of open, honest, above-board government.

In Illinois, it’s absolutely the wrong step to take.

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