Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, is suggesting to the national media that questionable expenses of his campaign funds took place in California while he was in Washington, D.C., doing the people’s business.
But a review of campaign records and social media by The San Diego Union-Tribune shows that Hunter was regularly present, with his family, when improper campaign spending happened.
A family rafting trip in Boise, Idaho, in 2015. A trip to Disneyland the same year. An Irish dance competition at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in 2016.
According to social media and his own staff, Hunter was present for trips to all these locations — trips funded at least in part by congressional campaign contributions.
Later, under scrutiny first by the Federal Election Commission and then by the Union-Tribune, Hunter repaid his campaign for expenses for the trips. Federal law prohibits use of campaign funds for personal benefit, to guard against undue influence by donors.
In an interview with Politico earlier this month, Hunter suggested that his wife, Margaret — who formerly served as campaign manager — made the charges that have led to an ongoing federal criminal investigation into his political spending.
Hunter told Politico to review the improper charges, and it would be obvious they were made in California, where his wife was, while Hunter was in Washington.
“You can see where I was during the transactions,” he said, “and you can draw your conclusion.”
Hunter has reimbursed his campaign for more than $60,000 of expenses dating back to 2015, charges he identified as personal, mistaken or lacking documentation. Federal criminal investigators are looking at unreimbursed expenses — and expenses dating back as far as 2009. Hunter has denied any “criminal action” and said any personal expenditures were honest mistakes.
Despite his statement to Politico, The San Diego Union-Tribune has documented this week and in past articles several occasions in which Hunter was present for questionable expenditures he later chose to repay. His attorney and his aides did not respond to questions about the expenses this week.
Here are details about the trips:
Disneyland. Hunter has repaid two charges totaling $229 for “food/beverages” from Star Trader, a Disneyland gift shop, paid on Sept. 28, 2015. According to the manager, the store only sold two food or beverage items: Pez and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispies treat. Hunter also reimbursed his campaign for a $58 charge at Royal Street Veranda, a restaurant at Disneyland, on the same day. The purpose of the charge was not reported in FEC records. In an Oct. 2, 2015, post on his Instagram account, Hunter shared a photo of himself with his wife and children enjoying what appeared to be the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. Hunter wrote “SpaceX Mountain” on the post.
Boise, Idaho. Hunter has repaid his campaign for two charges totaling $1,084 for lodging at The Grove Hotel in Boise on July 7, 2015. He also repaid a $73 charge to Epley’s Boise River Rental, which the campaign reported paying July 6, 2015. Hunter, who has family in the Boise area, posted photos to his Instagram page July 7, 2015, of two of his children floating in inflatable tubes that match a design advertised by the rafting company. He posted a photo of himself paddling a raft with a child seated in front of him. He captioned the photo, “Boise River float.”
Westin Hotel, Los Angeles. Hunter’s campaign paid $219 on Sept. 29, 2015, dates coinciding with an Irish dance competition at the Westin in Los Angeles, where a daughter of Hunter’s competed and placed in two events. Former spokesman Joe Kasper told the Union-Tribune that Hunter “had an official event that coincided with the timing — due to ease of coordinating schedules.” Hunter did not reimburse his campaign for the expenses. Hunter did reimburse two charges totaling $230, which the campaign made in August and September 2015, to Feis Productions, a company that services registrations for the Irish dance festivals where Hunter’s daughters competed.
Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. Hunter has reimbursed two payments totaling $633 to the Arizona Grand Resort, where two of Hunter’s daughters had been competing in an Irish dance event in January 2016. He posted a photo on Instagram, with the two girls in competition dance outfits, at the resort. Kasper told the Union-Tribune that Hunter’s trip to Phoenix had been “for purposes of coordinating a charity event he co-hosts annually, which is extended to donors and supporters.” Kasper said Hunter had “met with a coordinator” who lives in Arizona, and “due to travel constraints, Hunter timed it to his daughter’s event, rather than making multiple trips.”
Family Vacation to Hawaii. Hunter repaid three charges totaling $5,161 to Aston Kaanapali Shores resort in Hawaii in April 2015. Kasper told the Union-Tribune in April 2016 that the Hawaiian hotel charges were supposed to cover Hunter’s lodging in connection with a planned campaign event. When the campaign event was canceled, the trip became personal travel, Kasper said.
Vacation to Italy. Hunter has repaid eight charges totaling $2,245 from the Thanksgiving holiday week in 2015. Posts to Hunter’s Facebook page around the same time show him posing (sometimes with his wife) in front of popular Italian tourist destinations in cities where charges occurred. Among the repaid expenses was a $217 charge at a jewelry store for “food/beverages.” The jewelry store told the Union-Tribune it sells no food or drink. Kasper later told the Washington Post the Italian trip was “for ‘an arrangement with the military overseas’ that was canceled.” Hunter did not repay his campaign for three charges totaling $315 at Hotel San Gallo Palace in Florence. He did not respond to the Union-Tribune’s questions about why he did not repay the charges.