I have never been to the Rayburn House Office Building is Washington, DC, where many members of Congress have their offices, bit according to Ben Terris of the Washington Post, it’s your typical drab, beige, bureaucratic government building.
When a member of Congress moves into an office in the Rayburn, the rooms are spare and bare; furniture and computers are of the hand-me-down-from-the-last-tenant variety. But new members are allowed to paint, though they have limited choices that the House will provide: beige, eggshell, light blue, light gray or light yellow — that the House will provide. If you wish a different color, then the lawmaker must pay for that.
Which is how we come to Congressman Aaron Schock’s offices; y’all remember Schock, right? He, of the turquoise belt and gingham blouse, er, shirt, in the photo that went viral; the one that made us all wonder if he might be a little light in the Congressional loafers?
Schock’s new office — his outer office — is bold, bright red; there are gold-colored wall sconces with black candles; there’s a Federal-style bull’s-eye mirror with an eagle perched on top and, according to the woman at the front desk, it’s “based off of the red room in ‘Downton Abbey.’”
How very Dowager Countess. Terris was suddenly interested, and then another woman came out and asked if he’d like to see the rest; would he?
She introduced herself as Annie Brahler, the interior decorator whose company, Euro Trash, designed Schock’s new digs. She escorted Terris into Schock’s private office, another dramatic red room with a crystal chandelier, a table propped up by two eagles, a bust of Abraham Lincoln and massive arrangements of pheasant feathers.
Pheasant feathers. Terris was intrigued, but then he received a call on his cell phone: Schock’s communications director, Benjamin Cole who asked who told him that he could photograph the office. Cole said, "Stay where you are. You’ve created a bit of a crisis in the office.”
A staff member came in and asked Terris to delete the photos from my phone, but, well, that didn’t exactly happen and that’s when the story really took off.
See, Schock’s people wanted Terris to delete the pictures, and not do any story about the redecoration of his offices, but rather allow Schock to talk about any number of other things … like the six pack abs he proudly displays on the cover of Men’s Health; or his Instagram, which features him leaping for joy on a South American glacier — see that photo HERE — or smiling with Ariana Grande.
You know, political stiff. Not the gossipy stuff like what his new office is like.
Brahler, happy to let a reporter tour the office and see her work, was taken aback by all the fuss over the pictures. She’d met Schock several years ago, after he’d seen her work featured in magazines and offered her services for free, though Schock, according to Congressional rules, would have to pay for the furnishings.
So she decorated his old offices in the Cannon House Office Building, and when he moved into the Rayburn, he called again; she admits that, while his office looks kind of Downton-esque, it’s not a replica of the television show, it's just what Schock wanted.
Meanwhile, back to Benjamin Cole, recovering from the fit he threw that a reporter was in the office; he explained that Schock hadn’t seen the finished space yet and wondered if it was a bit unfair to write about it before the congressman had seen it. Terris agreed, though he asked if he could be there when Schock got his first peek-a-boo.
That was all well and good, until Aaron Schock decided he wasn’t interested in doing a whole story about how his office is decorated; he’d talk about anything else — well, not the turquoise belt — but would rather not discuss his offices.
And he sent Cole, his communications director, to make a point to Terris: the office is definitely not based on Downton Abbey because, well, maybe Schock doesn’t watch the show and he definitely doesn’t want to talk about it.
But someone does want to talk, and that’s the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW] who have asked the Office of Congressional Ethics) to investigate whether Republican Schock violated House rules by accepting free interior decorating work for his not Downton Abbey inspired offices.
“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. Again and again, Rep. Schock’s seeming obsession with his image impedes his ability to conduct himself in ethical manner.”
House rules prohibit members of Congress from accepting gifts, which are defined in the rules as any “item having monetary value” — like interior decoration services — and the rules explicitly prohibit members from using “outside private donations, funds, or in-kind goods and services” — as in campaign contributions — to pay for their congressional office.
CREW is also asking that Schock be investigated as to whether or not he used campaign funds to pay for his office furniture. They state that in 2012 campaign paid $5,522 to Brahler’s company for what it described as “office equipment” but with the revelation now that Brahler redecorated Schock’s previous suite, they seem to believe that campaign funds were used to pretty up Aaron spaces — a clear violation of House rules.
Maybe Schock should have just asked Brahler to redecorate his closet; that way no one would have seen it except for him.
Just sayin’ … and then Aaron said, when cornered by NBC News to ask about his Downton Office:
“I'm different. I came to Congress at 27 … as Taylor Swift said, 'haters are gonna hate.'"
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