A San Diego Congressman has been indicted for using camp gain funds for personal spending, including spending $600 to transport his childrens’ rabbit across the country.
In a world of nepotism and graft, Duncan Hunter, a Republican Congressman from California who took over his father’s seat in 2008, is accused of using over $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses.
The charges are quite serious. Whether deliberately or not, Hunter used campaign funds for family trips to Hawaii and Italy, the $600 rabbit ticket, and even private school tuition for his children. As the New York Times reports:
Beyond the family vacations and private school tuition, the indictment said expenses included dental work, theater tickets, and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives, as well as “tens of thousands of dollars on smaller purchases, including fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities and expensive meals,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department.
To conceal their personal spending, the Hunters mischaracterized the purchases as “campaign travel,” “dinner with volunteers/contributors,” “toy drives,” “teacher/parent and supporter events,” “gift cards” for charitable donations and “gift basket items,” the statement said.
Family dental bills paid with campaign funds were characterized as a charitable contribution to “Smiles for Life.” Theater tickets were mischaracterized as “holiday gift certificates.” Tickets for the family to see the Irish dance show Riverdance at the San Diego Civic Theater became “San Diego Civic Center for Republican Women Federated/Fund-raising.”
The Congressman has largely “paid back” this money, but in doing so given the appearance of predicating such actions on a longstanding ethics investigation against him.
On the rabbit issue, spokesman Joe Kasper told the Press-Enterprise:
(The office) has in their report $600 in campaign expenditures for in cabin rabbit transport fees. Since travel is often done on (airline) miles – which is entirely permissible – the credit card connected to the account was charged several times even when his children were flying.
This was nothing more than an oversight. In fact, it’s such an obvious example of a mistake being made but (the office) wants to view it through a lens of possible intent. The same goes for many other expenditures.
Linked credit cards are never automatically charged by airlines, whether tickets are paid for with miles or dollars. Count me as skeptical, though see my personal note below.
Smoking On Airplanes
Just to keep this story on the issue of travel as much as possible, a nugget in the Washington Post’s coverage of this event caught my eyes:
An outspoken advocate of e-cigarettes, he famously used a vape device during a House Transportation Committee hearing to discuss a proposal from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D. C.) to ban vaping on airplanes.
“This is called a vaporizer,” Hunter said, puffing a cloud out from the device. “There’s no combustion, there’s no carcinogens.”
Hunter is a smoker.
On A Personal Note
This story hits rather close to home. I worked for this California Congressman’s father as an intern during the summer of 2005 and again 2006. In fact, I worked under the same two spokesmen that are now defending his son across the media.
The younger Hunter is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran who bravely served his country. His spokesman insists that he did nothing wrong and the use of campaign funds for personal spending was simply an oversight that has been corrected. Perhaps. But there is so much more beyond the pet rabbit fee. I simply cannot fathom such sloppiness in accounting.
Federal government travel is such an interesting issue that I hope to dedicate more time to later on. Both sides of the aisle (I’ve also written about Democratic Congresswoman Shiela Jackson Lee) engage in questionable travel practices. We certainly saw that with Scott Pruit as well in the Executive Branch.
Trust is quickly shattered and slowly earned back. Whatever comes out of this investigation, I hope that other members of Congress watching this unfold will be scrupulous in engaging in proper accounting practices and never co-mingling campaign money with personal spending.
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