Group Seeks House Ethics Probe into Rep. Hunter’s Spending, Citing ‘Brazen Abuse’

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Rep. Duncan D. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, pleaded not guilty in court last week. Sketch by Krentz Johnson

By Ken Stone

A campaign finance watchdog group filed a complaint Monday with the Office of Congressional Ethics and a House panel calling for an inquiry into the conduct of Rep. Duncan Hunter of East County.

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A letter by Fred Wertheimer, president of the Washington-based nonprofit Democracy 21, said: “Whatever the outcome of the federal criminal proceedings, the House has an independent obligation to act to enforce its ethics rules and to impose appropriate sanctions on members who violate them.”

He said that if a majority of the 10-member House Ethics Committee votes yes, an inquiry must be opened within 30 days into any House member “indicted or otherwise formally charged with criminal conduct in any federal, state or local court.”

Letter from Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer to Office of Congressional Ethics. (PDF)
If a panel majority doesn’t OK a probe, it must submit a report to the House giving its reasons “and describing the actions, if any, that the committee has taken in response to the allegations,” Wertheimer said.

“The indictment of Rep. Hunter presents prima facie evidence that Rep. Hunter violated the prohibition in [House] Rule XXIII, cl. 6 on converting campaign funds for personal use,” he said in the letter.

The House Committee on Ethics, chaired by Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana, has five Democrats and five GOP members.

Wertheimer said the scale of the allegations, if shown to be true, presents the question of whether the five-term Republican acted in a manner that failed to “reflect creditably” on the House, in violation of Rule XXIII, cl. 1.

Rep. Hunter’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did the campaign of Democratic challenger Ammar Campa-Najjar.

In a statement on the group’s website, Wertheimer said: “Rep. Hunter and his wife were apparently ripping off their campaign donors by living off of their campaign contributions in gross violation of both federal campaign finance laws and House ethics rules.”

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He added: “This kind of brazen abuse of public office for personal gain greatly damages the public’s confidence in the House and casts a dark shadow on all of its members. OCE and the House Ethics Committee need to move swiftly to address these apparent abuses and to impose the strongest appropriate sanctions on Rep. Hunter.”

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