Battling House ethics charges for illegal spending of campaign funds, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-50th District, found time Friday to rip down a high school student’s first-place award-winning art piece posted at the U.S. Capitol complex by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.
Clay represents St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo., where the infamous Michael Brown slaying took place. The painting was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol complex in June following its awarding of first place in the 32nd Annual Congressional Art Competition. Clay’s office has participated in the last 16 annual competitions.
“As you can see from the artwork on display here,” Clay said, “the level of talent is truly impressive. Your work is inspiring, and I encourage all of you to continue to develop your creative abilities.”
The acrylic painting, “portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society,” Clay said.
Fox News described the painting as one of “a police officer aiming a gun at African-American protesters. Above the scene, two birds — one black, one white — fight, and beside them, an African-American protester holding a scale of justice is crucified.”
The art piece, “Untitled,” was created by then-Cardinal Ritter Prep senior David Pulphus, and was on display in the hallway between the Capitol and adjacent House office buildings. A tunnel leading to the Capitol is filled with paintings and other artwork done by students who enter them in the annual Congressional Art Competition.
The nationwide competition began in 1982 and students around the country submit entries to their representative’s office. Panels of district artists select the winner from each district, and the winning works are displayed for one year.
Clay’s office has said the teen who made the painting was speaking from his own life experience, considering where he lived and its location close to Ferguson, Mo.
Fox News reported that an angry Hunter “took matters into his own hands Friday and personally removed a painting depicting police officers as pigs that a colleague had allowed to be displayed at the U.S. Capitol complex.”
“I was angry,” Hunter told FoxNews.com. “I’ve seen the press [reporting] on this for about a week or so. … I’m in the Marine Corps. If you want it done, just call us.”
Hunter said he walked over to the artwork Friday morning with a few colleagues and unscrewed it. He then delivered it to Clay’s office, which is located four doors down from his.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Hunter “will soon realize that he’s fallen down more than one rabbit hole.”
The reference was to Hunter’s recent admission that his campaign had paid the $600 tab incurred for flying his children’s pet rabbit with the family. Hunter said the charge to the campaign was a mistake and that he had reimbursed the campaign as part of more than $60,000 in questionable charges he had discovered.
Joe Kasper, Hunter’s press spokesman, said: “There’s nothing appropriate about a painting that depicts police officers as pigs. Representative Hunter removed the painting and returned it, but as easy as it came down—it can go back up, of course. There’s a massive outpouring from law enforcement and other members—and even Capitol Hill police officers are coming by to say thank you.”
Clay’s office was closed for the weekend and not immediately available for comment.
House Republicans reportedly have been upset by the painting since its posting. The hard-right Independent Journal Review Thursday ran a story highly critical of the painting. Fox News ran a story Friday praising Hunter’s actions.
Hunter repaid $62,000 in campaign funds used for personal expenses just prior to November’s election following a Federal Election Commission investigation that continues along with an investigation of his personal use of campaign funds, which is illegal, by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
Hunter voted behind closed doors with the Republican Congressional Caucus Monday to abolish the ethics office investigating his activities. Republicans backed away from their efforts to abolish the office on Tuesday after a vast outcry of disapproval by constituents.
A report is expected as early as next week of the ethics office findings on Hunter’s activities, which also will cover additional spending of campaign funds for personal expenses not released previously including expenditure of $600 to fly his family pet rabbit on commercial airlines. Kasper says spending of campaign funds for personal expenses was an oversight that has been addressed.
Campaign disbursements used illegally for Hunter’s personal expenses — most of them incurred in 2015 before a Federal Election Commission complaint became public — included:
106 fill-ups at gas stations, totaling $5,660.
16 trips to Jack in the Box totaling $297.
Forty trips to Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s or another grocery store, spending $6,819 total.
An expense for $229 at a Disneyland gift shop for “food/beverages.” A spokesman for the park told the Union-Tribune the only edible items the store sells are Pez candy and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispy treat.
Utilities — $1,269 for San Diego Gas & Electric and $300 to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.
More than $2,000 on restaurants, hotels and train travel in the Italian cities of Rome, Florence and Positano during the Thanksgiving holiday week in 2015.
A payment for $216 to Gioielleria Manetti in Florence, listed on a disclosure report as “food/beverages.” The store makes and customizes jewelry and watches, according to its website. A store representative said it offers no food or drinks.
$1,300 spent at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea restaurant that provides lunches to Hunter’s children’s El Cajon private school.