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Politics

Rep. Duncan Hunter attempts to create legal expense fund to cover costs of FBI investigation

Rep. Duncan Hunter
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in 2014.
(Getty Images)

Rep. Duncan Hunter is attempting to set up a fund to raise money to pay for lawyers and other costs related to an ongoing FBI criminal investigation into allegations of misused campaign cash, according to documents filed in Congress.

Hunter, a Republican from Alpine, filed the required paperwork to the House Ethics Committee nearly a month ago, on March 27, seeking a rarely approved “Legal Expense Fund.” Yet the document was signed, notarized and dated nearly a year ago, in June.

With such a fund, lawmakers who are under investigation or being sued in connection with their jobs or campaigns can raise money for legal expenses.

The document establishing the fund was not available to the public until late last week and was missing other records that typically are included, such as a letter from the ethics committee approving the trust fund and quarterly financial disclosures of any fundraising and spending. House regulations for establishing trust funds state that the member must obtain written permission of the House Ethics Committee before raising any money.

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Hunter’s chief of staff, Michael Harrison, did not immediately returns calls and emails seeking clarification about the status of the fund or how much money had been raised or spent.

The House Ethics Committee does not comment on pending matters.

The Federal Election Commission and the San Diego Union-Tribune first questioned in April 2016 Hunter’s reported spending for video games and for children’s private school tuition. Federal law prohibits spending campaign funds for personal use.

A subsequent investigation by the Union-Tribune found a host of other potentially improper expenses, including for oral surgery, groceries, garage door repair, surfing equipment, dance recital trips, school lunches and airfare for the family rabbit cross-country.

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The House Ethics Committee announced in March 2017 that it was suspending its own probe into Hunter’s campaign spending at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice, to avoid interfering with the FBI investigation.

The FBI has investigated Hunter’s campaign spending for more than a year, and Hunter’s campaign has paid more than $600,000 in legal fees.

Hunter denies involvement in any “criminal action.” While his attorneys have said he is cooperating with the FBI investigation, Hunter has been publicly impatient with the drawn-out probe.

“I think that the longer they drag this out, the worse it is for me, and they know that. So let’s just get it over with,” Hunter told KUSI in January.

Legal expense funds are administered by an independent trustee and allow donors to give above the maximum amount they can contribute to a candidate’s campaign.

Individuals, corporations and political action committees can contribute up to $5,000 to the fund. Lobbyists and agents of foreign governments may not contribute.

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sarah.wire@latimes.com

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