Congressman Under Fire Over Campaign Spending

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Rep. Duncan Hunter is being investigated by the Justice Department on suspicion of campaign finance violations involving campaign funds used for personal purchases.

The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it had been investigating campaign finance violations against Hunter when the Justice Department asked it to defer the investigation.

According to a report by the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics made available Thursday, there is “substantial reason to believe” Hunter’s campaign committee reported spending that “may not be legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures.”

“Rep. Hunter may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, health care, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries, and other goods, services, and expenses,” the report states.

The Office of Congressional Ethics had recommended the Ethics Committee begin a full-scale investigation into Hunter last August, after media reports from The San Diego Union-Tribune revealed Hunter spent campaign funds on video games and his kids’ private school tuition.

The congressman repaid his campaign fund $60,000 after the reports surfaced.

Complaints filed last April by the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington with the Office of Congressional Ethics and Federal Election Commission after the Tribune and the FEC questioned purchases listed as “mistaken charges” in the Hunter Committee’s campaign finance reports set the investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics into motion.

Notably, Hunter disclosed at least 68 mistaken charges totaling more than $1,300 to Steam Games, a video game company; thousands at a hotel in Hawaii; and even more money spent on travel in Italy over the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday, including money initially categorized as “food and beverage” purchases that was paid to a jewelry store in Florence. The trip appeared to be a family vacation based on the spending, timing of the trip over Thanksgiving and photos posted to Hunter’s Facebook page, the complaints stated.

Reimbursements are also suspected to have been mistakenly made to Hunter’s wife Margaret, who is also his campaign manager. The ethics group asked the $14,000 that was reimbursed to Hunter’s wife between 2010 and 2016 be investigated in its entirety. Margaret Hunter was also paid $116,000 by the Hunter campaign since 2010, for campaign management services and consulting.

Hunter’s campaign committee is operated out of his home.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington executive director Noah Bookbinder said Thursday Hunter showed “a blatant disregard for the rules.”

“This is the most egregious congressional spending scandal since Aaron Schock. We are glad to see the Office of Congressional Ethics voted unanimously for an investigation and will be closely following the FBI’s criminal investigation into Congressman Hunter,” Bookbinder said in an online statement.

Hunter’s attorneys Elliot Berke and Gregory Vega issued a statement Thursday in response to the Ethics Committee’s announcement.

“Last year, Congressman Hunter became aware of expenditure issues confronting his campaign committee. Out of an abundance of caution, he took corrective action in consultation with the FEC and, ultimately, he and his wife personally repaid the campaign approximately $60,000. Congressman Hunter intends to cooperate fully with the government on this investigation, and maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional.”

The Justice Department has not made public an investigation of Hunter’s campaign finances, nor has it detailed what violations it suspects Hunter or members of his campaign team committed, if any.