A former donor to disgraced ex-Representative Aaron Schock will file a class action lawsuit against him Wednesday morning, in hopes of preventing the Illinois Republican from using campaign funds for his legal defense.
Howard Foster, a Chicago lawyer and former donor to the congressman, will be the lead—and so far, only—plaintiff in the case against Schock, two sources familiar with the matter tell The Daily Beast. He has retained Steve Berman, a Seattle lawyer famous for launching high-profile class action lawsuits against the likes of Exxon Mobil and Enron, to file the case Wednesday in Chicago Federal Court.
Schock resigned last month after it was revealed that he had claimed tens of thousands of dollars in false mileage reimbursements for use of his personal vehicle, among other spending irregularities.
His troubles started with a Washington Post article about the redecoration of his Capitol Hill office in the style of the television show Downton Abbey. Although the decorator offered her services for free, Schock later said he would pay her for them. A follow-up story in USA Today revealed that he had spent tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on various other office redecorations. What followed next was a deluge of stories from various media outlets reporting on Schock’s lavish lifestyle, ultimately leading to his downfall.
“We thought he was honest and had a bright future. We would not have supported him had we known he regularly violated House rules,” Foster wrote in a blog post last month. (Neither Foster nor Berman would speak on the record about the pending case.) Previewing the argument he will likely be making in the legal brief, Foster then wrote, “In light of the situation, he should not convert his campaign funds to any other purpose, such as his legal defense. For that he should have to pay out of his own pocket. Donors should get their money back on some sort of percentage basis, such as in a bankruptcy proceeding.”
According to Federal Election Commission records, Foster only made a single $500 donation to Schock’s congressional campaign fund. He and Berman hope to convince a federal judge to certify the case as a class action suit, which would then result in a letter being sent to every single one of Schock’s many donors across the country, informing them that they have the opportunity to become parties to the lawsuit.
Such a legal campaign—typically used against companies that make defective products—is unprecedented in the annals of American politics. As such, the plaintiffs will have to overcome a high legal burden and need to prove that Schock deliberately made false assertions to donors and raised their money for purposes other than the furtherance of his political career.
A source familiar with Schock’s operation told The Daily Beast that as to “the substantive claim that he defrauded donors for the purpose of living high, nobody can be able to prove that.” Calling the case “frivolous,” the source explained that Schock resigned over his misuse of public money, not campaign funds, the latter of which candidates have wide legal latitude in spending. “It’s classic trial lawyer bullshit and it’ll go nowhere.”
Steve Berman, the lawyer arguing the case, has long experience in the world of class action lawsuits. In 2011, Berman won a $218 million settlement on behalf of investors swindled by Bernie Madoff against JPMorgan Chase, which they claimed had assisted the financial adviser in his Ponzi scheme.
Foster’s problems with Schock go back long before the congressman was accused of misappropriating public money. In October 2013, Foster lashed out at Schock for being “either incoherent about immigration policy or, at times, [indicating] openness to mass legalization.” Writing of Schock and his fellow young Illinois Republican colleague Adam Kinzinger, Foster declared that “they simply don’t listen to their mostly rural and conservative constituents on this issue. It’s time to take action against them. We should stop giving money to their campaigns, stop volunteering, and hope they listen to us. If not, then let them get primaried.”