Federal agents are seeking documents from former Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) that relate to a major GOP political vendor under indictment for allegedly conspiring to funnel foreign funds into a U.S. mayoral election, according to recently unsealed court documents and an OpenSecrets Blog analysis of campaign finance data.
The vendor, ElectionMall Inc., and its CEO, Ravneet Singh, allegedly played a significant role in a San Diego campaign finance scandal that unfolded in the 2012 election. Prosecutors alleged in an August 2014 indictment that ElectionMall took payments from a wealthy Mexican businessman to do social media outreach, valued at nearly $200,000, for a candidate in the 2012 San Diego mayoral race. Other players in the same scandal allegedly conspired to give $30,000 in foreign funds to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, according to the indictment and campaign finance records.
It is unclear why prosecutors are seeking Schock’s records on ElectionMall, but the firm counted Schock’s congressional campaign and joint fundraising committee among its 49 clients during the time when the alleged conspiracy took place. Between 2010 and 2014, the two Schock committees paid ElectionMall $69,641, mostly for website development.
Singh was arrested in January 2014 and pleaded not guilty. He considered himself a “social media guru,” according to the 2014 indictment, and seemed a natural fit with the web-savvy Schock, who had deftly used fundraising and his image as the young, hip future of the GOP to rise in the House.
A Washington Post story on Schock’s office, which the congressman had redesigned in the style of the PBS show “Downton Abbey,” brought the initial scrutiny to his lavish habits.The former Illinois congressman abruptly resigned in March after multiple media organizations, including OpenSecrets Blog, reported on his questionable use of taxpayer funds and campaign finances. Since then, he’s paid big money for crisis lawyers in Washington. An attorney for Schock did not respond to requests for comment.
For its web, social and fundraising services, ElectionMall pulled in $1.6 million from federal campaigns between 2010 and 2014, an OpenSecrets Blog review of campaign finance data shows. The company served the Republican Party of California and several powerful members of the national Republican party, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the 2010 Senate campaign of now-presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
But unlike those Republicans, Schock was one of only a handful of ElectionMall clients who continued to pay the company after Singh’s arrest, campaign finance records show. That’s against the nature of normally skittish political campaigns, according to Brett Kappel, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and expert on election law.
“Many campaigns would sever a relationship with a vendor who was indicted for campaign finance law violations, if for no other reason than to avoid even the appearance of any possible impropriety,” Kappel said.
Agents seeking Schock’s records for months found themselves in an age-old fight over which documents members of Congress have to hand over to the executive branch when served with subpoenas. On July 28, a U.S. attorney wrote that Schock “repeatedly and deceptively defied an order to produce all items sought in three grand jury subpoenas.” Schock’s lawyers did agree to hand over some financial documents after seeking an immunity deal, but the scope of the requests remains an issue in this case for prosecutors and Schock’s lawyers.
Singh did not reply to a request for comment, and ElectionMall representatives could not be reached for comment.