Escondido’s Congressman Duncan Hunter, an Alpine resident, won his last election by a 40-point margin in a District that was 44 percent Republican registered and 31 percent Democratic registered voters.
No California Republican incumbent congressman ever has lost a race in a GOP-majority district.
This time around, he can’t seem to get out of his own way. In recent weeks, Hunter has been involved in numerous campaign ethics controversies, under fire from the Federal Election Commission for spending campaign funds on video games and his son’s private school tuition.
He toked on a vaporizer at a House Transportation Committee meeting as he sought to allow airplane passengers to blow vapors on flights.
Hunter had to cut short some kind of junket to Israel this month to return home to deal with controversies. And guess what, the Israel trip was paid for with campaign funds. However, Hunter’s Congressional spokesman Joe Kasper said that was OK because he had been invited in connection with his position as a House Armed Services Committee member.
That’s not all. Non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington identified campaign consulting payments of $11,000 to Hunter’s wife, Margaret, in 2011 and $39,000 in 2014 that didn’t appear on any personal financial disclosure forms filed with the House clerk.
In response, Hunter’s congressional office last week asked the House Committee on Ethics to amend several years of financial disclosure reports.
And then, of course, there’s that little business of Hunter being one of the first two, of only seven, congressmen to endorse Donald Trump for president. Trump this month appointed him, along with Chris Collins, R-NY, co-chairs of his new “House Leadership Committee.”
“I’ve liked him for a long time,” Hunter said when announcing his endorsement. “I don’t think we need a policy wonk as president, we need a leader as president.”
Ethics violation allegations
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week continued to question Hunter about his use of campaign funds to pay for video games, not once, but 68 times. Hunter’s staff said the wrong credit card was used. Hunter Jr. listed $1,302 worth of “Steam Games” on his finance disclosure statement for 2015.
Steam is the proud online proprietor of such great titles as “Party Hard,” “Axes and Acres” and, of course, the ever-popular ,“weekend deal” on its site today, “Killing Floor 2.” Hunter’s campaign fund disclosure listed the $1,302 of video game expenses with the notation “personal expense — to be paid back.”
He also paid $1,650 of donated campaign funds to Christian Unified Schools at El Cajon where his three children attend school, later saying the payment was for tuition for his son.
House Ethics Committee rules say, “members have no discretion whatsoever to convert campaign funds to personal use.”
FEC officials wrote Hunter on April 4 that personal expenditures of campaign funds were strictly forbidden under federal election laws, although taking care of this transgression quickly would be taken into consideration as enforcement decisions were made.
Hunter last week started exercising damage control of the costly kind. On April 11, Hunter said he had written personal checks for $12,000 — or about four times the amount questioned by FEC investigators— to reimburse his campaign treasury for charges that “should never have happened,” Hunter Congressional spokesman Kasper said, “but regardless of who made them and when, Congressman Hunter is taking full responsibility.”
Said Democratic challenger in the 50th District, Patrick Malloy, an Escondido real estate agent: “It’s the equivalent of saying ‘the dog ate my homework.’”
Since FEC officials originally had cited Hunter only for close to $3,000, the natural follow-up question was what was the additional $9,000 supposed to cover. Hunter campaign officials referred to, but didn’t identify, $5,000 in 2015 expenditures that were mistaken or personal expenditures as Hunter repaid the charges.
Campaign officials also disclosed at least three charges amounting to $5,161 paid to Aston Kaanapali Shores Resort at Lahaina, Maui last year, adding those personal charges were reimbursed to the campaign fund as soon after they were incurred.
A San Diego Union Tribune editor in the video below also mentioned unspecified charges for oral surgery, saying Hunter, as he was returning from Israel, told the newspaper he didn’t know what that was about and was going to look into it.
Critics from right and left
One critic said of Hunter: “To clarify his affinity for things offensive and unprincipled he endorsed Donald Trump for president. Not one of the last to do so, but one of the first. Now. we read he has problems with the Federal Elections Commission. Serious enough to immediately cut short a trip to Israel. The use of campaign funds for personal expenses is strictly forbidden.”
And that was just from a fellow Republican.
Eric Andersen, a member of the Central Committee of the San Diego County Republican Party and current Chair and Co-Founder of the Republican Liberty Caucus of San Diego County said Hunter has become a poster boy for Barry Goldwater’s famous quote: “Conservative principles so widely espoused and Conservative action so generally neglected.
Democratic opponent, Escondido realtor Patrick Malloy, said of Hunter’s video gaming and vaping escapades, “This adolescent behavior is unbecoming for a member of the House of Representatives. Hunter needs to grow up and do the work he was elected to do on behalf of his constituents.”
Up in vapors
Continuing Hunter’s pattern of embarrassing optics if not misbehavior is his vaping during a Congressional Transportation Committee meeting last February.
Gawker ran the story under the headline “Oh my God, a U.S. congressman just vaped while legislating.” Gawker said: “Good people of America, the moment has finally arrived. Today, Duncan Hunter, a U.S. Representative from California who first proclaimed his love of vaping not two months ago, blew a sick cloud of e-juice during a congressional hearing. I love the U.S.A.”
According to The Hill, Hunter vaped a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “Yes, I vape — as do millions of other Americans. And why do I vape? It is because it prevents me from smoking the real thing. E-cigarettes are a suitable alternative to cigarettes, and they could very well save my life, as well as the lives of so many Americans who are making their best effort to quit cigarettes.”
That’s certainly up for debate.
What isn’t is Hunter’s actions during the House Transportation Committee meeting earlier this year at which an amendment banning vaping on airplanes was discussed.
Not only did Hunter oppose the amendment, as Gawker reported and numerous videos posted on social media illustrated, Hunter whipped out a vaporizer and blew vapor into the committee air, causing the congresswoman next to him to wave her hand to blow back the vapors.
How will it play in the 50th
The big question is how Hunter’s very vocal support of Trump and his other activities will play in the district that extends from Escondido to East County and is nearly one-third Hispanic in make-up. Analysts consider it one of the most conservative congressional districts in the nation.
Hunter, 40, of Alpine, has served in Congress since 2009. Prior to that his father, Duncan L Hunter served in Congress from 1981 to 2009. It doesn’t get much more Washington insider than that making Hunter and Trump somewhat strange bedfellows at first glance.
Gary Jacobsen, the University of California, San Diego, political science professor considered expert in local politics, told Jim Cramer’s TheStreet recently that Hunter’s endorsement aligns with his own political persona.
“Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional District, one of the most conservative Republican districts in the country,” Jacobsen said. “It is also located in the southern part of the state near the Mexican border.”
Jacobsen continued: “He has no worries that there are enough moderates there to desert him for a Democrat if he associates too strongly with Trump. He has been hard-nosed on immigration throughout his career, so supporting someone who is even more hard-nosed is not inconsistent with his past positions. He represents the kind of constituents that do like Trump.”
However, when it came to the FEC charge, Jacobsen said to the Union Tribune that the FEC rarely punishes candidates for relatively minor use of campaign funds for personal purposes, as long as the candidate repays the money
Also consulted for the article was another well-known political science professor, Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida. “The key is what is their goal for the endorsement?” she said. “Is it because they truly like him and his platform? Is it because they might want something in the administration should he win?”
Reality check. Donald Trump isn’t going to win. Hunter might win, but only because the 50th District is a gerrymandered ode to the power of his father, Duncan Hunter, Sr. who served in Congress from 1993 to 2009 finishing his career as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Which harkens back to a decade, and more ago, which might as well be the Stone Age in public political consciousness, to a little bit of risky business involving jailed-for-corruption Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the disgraced Rancho Santa Fe GOP Congressman; Brent Wilkes, Jack Abramoff and…
Will the 50th Congressional District stop living in the past?
2014 Fox News clip when Hunter said ISIS was infiltrating fighters across the Rio Grande into the U.S. Heard much about that lately? No, because it’s nonsense.
Fast 50th Congressional District Facts
|Current incumbent||Duncan Hunter|
|Gender||51.2% Female, 48.8% Male|
|Race||81.4% White, 5.2% Asian, 2.2% Black, 1.5% Native Am.|
|Median household income||$54,971|
|High school graduation rate||83.6%|
|College graduation rate||23.7%|
Non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and ethics in Washington (CREW) published this investigation of Hunter Jr. under the title: ‘Pork Parade’
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA-52) has picked up where his father, former Congressman Duncan L. Hunter, left off. The freshman member is doing his best to bring home the bacon for some of his biggest campaign donors, one of which is a company founded by his uncle. At the same time, Congressman Hunter touts his commitment to cutting government spending on his own website. It seems the best way to maintain government funding is to donate to Mr. Hunter’s campaign.
“The rotten apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” said Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It’s pretty easy to draw a straight line from the contributions to Congressman Hunter to the earmarks he is requesting for his biggest donors. Perhaps he should be more honest about his actions and just place a for sale sign on his door.”
Rep. Hunter requested $26 million in earmarks for General Atomics and $3 million for TREX Enterprises for Fiscal Year 2010. General Atomics employees are among his largest campaign donors, contributing at least $26,200 to his campaign and PAC since 2007. Employees of TREX aren’t far behind, donating at least $10,350 since 2007.
Pork Parade, below, continued:
“This time, a freshman member of Congress is carrying on the earmarking traditionsof his father.Freshman Representative Duncan. D. Hunter (R-CA) requested nearly $30 million inearmarks for two companies that have donated heavily to his campaign and are connected to hisfather, former Congressman Duncan L. Hunter (R-CA). Duncan D. Hunter waselected to hisfather’s seatin 2008 after his father retired from Congress.