Report on Hunter’s campaign funds finds ‘pervasive evidence’ of misspending
An Office of Congressional Ethics report on Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign spending, held up for three years by the criminal prosecution of the congressman, has been released now that he has pleaded guilty to misspending the funds.
The 50-page report provides new details about individual expenses and spending patterns that have not come out previously in media coverage or the criminal case.
“The records illustrate a consistent practice of misuse of campaign funds by Rep. Hunter and his family,” the office found. “The OCE also found prevalent examples of FEC [Federal Election Commission] reports filed by the campaign committee that may contain materially false and misleading statements.”
The report examined $9,200 spent on an Italian vacation, $7,000 spent on trips to Hawaii, $2,900 spent going to the Arizona Grand Resort and $3,000 spent going to a wedding for Hunter’s cousin in Idaho.
“The OCE reviewed receipts and records for the family’s stay at the [Boise] hotel and found that in addition to lodging expenses, the $2,259.22 paid for by the campaign committee included four in-room movies, gift shop purchases, and many charges with receipts signed by Rep. Hunter’s three children,” the report said.
The report also cataloged five $125 charges covering air travel for a pet rabbit, in addition to $6,300 in travel expenses for family and acquaintances, such as five flights for Margaret Hunter’s mother and several trips for people connected to the Hunter children’s private school, Christian Unified.
The report also calls out $4,666 of water, cable and Internet bills.
“Rep. Hunter’s campaign committee paid for service at the Hunter family residence that included the Cox Advanced TV Premier Package, DVR service, the premium channels HBO and Starz, and Cox High Speed Internet,” the report says. “The account statements for this period include charges for late-payment fees, multiple UFC events, NFL Red Zone and many pay-per-view movies from multiple genres.”
According to the report, “The OCE identified pervasive evidence of campaign-funded expenditures for family travel, flights, utilities, health care, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries, gas, and other goods, services, and expenses not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”
Hunter’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the report. But the Alpine Republican’s former spokesman, Joe Kasper, issued a defense of the then-unreleased report in January 2017 in an interview with the Press-Enterprise in Riverside.
He told the newspaper the “findings or implications are significantly misrepresented or even exaggerated.”
Kasper also said that “many of Rep. Hunter’s repayments had to do with mistakes under specific circumstances, and in other cases there were bona fide campaign activities connected to expenditures that [the office] was not aware of and didn’t account for.”
The report notes repeatedly that Hunter’s office and campaign refused to cooperate, leaving officials unable to determine any legitimate justifications for campaign expenses.
In one example, the report states, “Without cooperation, the OCE did not have the opportunity to ask Rep. Hunter about the rabbit’s flight history or to determine why he used campaign funds to pay for the pet’s travel.”
Further, the report said, “Rep. Hunter and the campaign committee’s refusal to cooperate with the review restricted access to a substantial body of the campaign committee’s financial, travel, and purchase records. In spite of obligations under House rules, Rep. Hunter refused to verify that such funds were not used for personal purposes.”
Duncan and Margaret Hunter were indicted in August 2018 on 60 counts related to misspending campaign funds. Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to one felony conspiracy count in June and Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to one last week.
The plea triggered the release of the full report from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that it adopted Aug. 26, 2016. A short summary of the report was released in March 2017.
In addition to the report, the office released 24 packages of exhibits.
The ethics review dates to April 2016, when the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint focused on the Italian trip.
“Rep. Hunter’s campaign committee spent $9,213.58 on hotels, flight costs, food, train transportation, and jewelry as part of a family trip to Italy for Rep. Hunter, Mrs. Hunter, and their three children, including stops in Rome, Florence, Naples, and Positano,” the ethics report found.
CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz on Monday told the Union-Tribune, “Duncan Hunter pled guilty to misusing campaign funds. We know he did it. While he claims that he ‘made mistakes,’ the OCE report spells out a clear pattern of Hunter illegally spending thousands of dollars of campaign money on his family for years and misreporting it to authorities. This report vindicates every complaint and story about Hunter’s spending which he and his staff vehemently denied. If this were, as he claimed, a ‘witch hunt,’ it sure caught itself a witch.”
The report, released Monday, describes its requests for documents and sometimes testimony from 64 sources, including the Hunters, Duncan Hunter’s campaign treasurers, members of Duncan Hunter’s congressional staff, restaurants, airlines, hotels and other vendors the campaign paid. The report also listed 17 sources who refused to cooperate, including the Hunters, Duncan Hunter’s campaign and congressional staffers, San Diego Gas & Electric and Chevron Corp.
The OCE does not have subpoena power or enforcement authority. Its job is to review ethics complaints and forward those they deem worthy of further investigation to the House Ethics Committee.
The office highlighted multiple transactions that appeared to show Duncan and Margaret Hunter using the campaign credit card for an impermissible use, then reporting it as an expense that would be allowed.
The dollar amounts were sometimes small, but the report noted such expenses were pervasive.
For instance, the report said, “the campaign committee paid 15 different credit card charges in the three-year period at Olive Garden, totaling approximately $1,595.19, 13 of which were made by Mrs. Hunter.”
The report cited one series of expenses reported as “meals with supporters” or “travel.”
The transactions included “a $32.34 purchase by Rep. Hunter at Exxon in Sterling, Va., for items including tobacco and alcohol,” the report said. “Within the 20 transactions, the campaign also paid for Mrs. Hunter’s $19.05 meal at the restaurant La Salsa in La Mesa, Calif. On that same day when she dined at La Salsa in California, Sept. 16, 2010, Rep. Hunter used campaign committee funds across the country at a sports pub in Arlington, Va.”
- “The OCE also found that on Nov. 6, 2010, Mrs. Hunter spent $32.61 in San Diego on what the campaign committee described to the FEC as ‘Campaign supplies — no memo required,’ even though the credit card description for the purchase was “Holiday Mall Photos.”
- Hunter’s campaign committee reported “a $21.94 disbursement on Oct. 19, 2010 as ‘Golf with supporters — no memo required.’ However, the credit card records for the expense show that it was actually a $21.94 purchase by Mrs. Hunter at J.C. Penney in El Cajon, Calif., for backpacks.”
- Hunter’s campaign chose to repay and report to regulators expenditures including charges at “Nordstrom and Barnes & Noble, as well as a $360.58 purchase at Emerald City Gang Inc., a California surf shop — despite public statements by Rep. Hunter’s Chief of Staff Joseph Kasper suggesting that the expense was for ‘materials and items for a community event.’”
The OCE noted that an understanding of FEC spending thresholds that trigger itemized disclosure on FEC reports may have helped the campaign hide smaller questionable expenditures from public and regulatory scrutiny.
Hunter announced Friday that he plans to step down from his seat in Congress shortly after the holidays, although he did not specify a date. He was first elected to his 50th Congressional District seat in 2008.
The House Ethics Committee warned Hunter last week to stop voting as a member of the House because he is precluded from doing so by his guilty plea.
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