By Ken Stone
Two years before Rep. Duncan D. Hunter and his wife, Margaret, were indicted on campaign finance violations, Washington ethics watchdogs had already found at least $45,000 in questionable spending.
On Monday, with Hunter having pled guilty last week in the case, the “confidential” report was released.The OCE review examined Federal Election Commission filings for Hunter’s campaign committee from January 2009, when he first took office, to August 2016.
It said it reviewed thousands of pages of Hunter financial, travel and purchase records. (This came before FBI raids on Hunter offices in February 2017.)
“The records illustrate a consistent practice of misuse of campaign funds by Rep. Hunter and his family,” the report said. “The OCE also found prevalent examples of FEC reports filed by the campaign committee that may contain materially false and misleading statements.”
The OCE said it received a written request for preliminary review signed by at least two members of the OCE board on April 22, 2016 — about two weeks after first media disclosures about Hunter’s filings.
Rich in detail, the 50-page report was accompanied by 900 pages of documentary evidence.
Among the revelations or more fully explored matters:
- “In 2014 and 2015, Rep. Hunter’s campaign committee spent $625 on five separate $125 ‘pet in cabin’ United Airlines charges to fly a pet rabbit. One of the passenger flight records specifically states, ‘Member Traveling with 1 Rabbit in Cabin.’”
- “The campaign committee paid $936.16 for five separate United Airlines charges for flights for Mrs. Hunter’s mother. All of the flights involved travel to or from Chicago and based on the information reviewed without cooperation from Rep. Hunter or Mrs. Hunter, the OCE
did not find evidence Rep. Hunter or Mrs. Hunter accompanied Mrs. Hunter’s mother on the
- “Rep. Hunter’s mother also flew at the campaign committee’s expense. The OCE found that the campaign committee paid for two July 26, 2012, credit card charges for $33.50 and $534.70 for Rep. Hunter’s mother’s August 2012 round trip flights from San Diego to Tampa.”
- “Rep. Hunter’s campaign committee paid for service at the Hunter family residence that included the Cox Advanced TV Premier Package, DVR service, the premium channels HBO and Starz, and Cox High Speed Internet. The account statements for this period include charges for late payment fees, multiple UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events, NFL Red Zone, and many pay-per-view movies from multiple genres.”
- “The OCE reviewed the campaign committee’s total direct disbursements in its FEC filings to the grocery stores Costco, Vons, and Albertsons between January 2009 and the present. In 6 1/2 years of FEC filings, the campaign committee reported disbursements totaling approximately $11,541.51 to Costco, $3,585.09 to Vons, and $4,438.74 to Albertsons.”
- “In the credit card records from January 2010 through February 2013, the campaign committee paid for 33 separate purchases at Starbucks totaling approximately $526.38, 26 of which were made by Mrs. Hunter.”
- “The credit card statements also show that the campaign committee paid for 24 charges at Jack in the Box totaling approximately $494.80, 22 of which were made by Mrs. Hunter.
- “Finally, the campaign committee paid 15 different credit card charges in the three-year period at Olive Garden, totaling approximately $1,595.19, 13 of which were made by Mrs. Hunter.
After Morgan Cook of The San Diego Union-Tribune first reported on Hunter’s questionable spending — on video game purchases — Hunter and aides said the money was paid back.
But the OCE report said that, in some cases, it was unclear what was repaid and what was not for the Steam Games purchases.
FEC filings claimed that the campaign committee was refunded $1,272.10 for Steam Games transactions on April 5, 2016, the report said.
But the $6,150.00 repayment to the campaign committee on April 5, 2016, that allegedly included the repayment for the Steam Games purchases actually appears to be a reimbursement to the campaign committee for $6,150 in “mistaken” disbursements to Christian Unified Schools, said the report.Also notable in the report was a list of people and companies who refused to cooperate with congressional investigators.
The OCE sought information from San Diego Gas & Electric Co. regarding accounts held by, or payments or transactions made or authorized by, the Hunters or Duncan D. Hunter for Congress.
“The campaign committee reported payments to SDGE in October 2015,” the report said.
- Download: OCE Reports and Findings Exhibits in Duncan Hunter case
- Review: Original 60-count federal indictment of August 2018 against the Hunters
Therefore SDG&E declined to produce information in response to the request.
On Tuesday, an SDG&E spokeswoman confirmed: “To protect customer privacy, SDG&E discloses personal information about customers only upon receipt of a subpoena or other judicially authorized demand for records. We are not aware of any subpoena or court order demanding Mr. Hunter’s customer records pursuant to this investigation.“
Besides the Hunters and their campaign committee, others refusing to fully cooperate with the OCE’s review were:
- Bruce Young, former campaign treasurer
- Sheila Hardison, former campaign finance director
- Joseph Kasper, former congressional chief of staff
- Joe Browning, longtime field representative
- Elizabeth M. Argo, Hunter’s executive assistant since February 2015
- Rick Terrazas, Hunter’s district director since 2009
- Wesley Schermann Jr., Hunter’s special projects coordinator since April 2013
- Victoria J. Middleton, Hunter’s chief of staff from 2009 to December 2014
- Allison R. Sadoian, scheduler and deputy policy director from January 2011 until January 2013
- Carly DeBeikes, who worked in his congressional office from January 2013 until February 2015 as scheduler and office manager*
- The Gula Graham Group, a political fundraising group that Hunter’s campaign committee paid more than $500,000 in consulting fees to since 2009
- Gilliard, Blanning & Associates Inc., a political consulting firm that received close to $200,000 from Hunter’s campaign committee since 2009
- And Chevron Corp.
The OCE concluded its report by saying its board recommended issuing subpoenas to Rep. Hunter, Margaret Hunter, Duncan D. Hunter for Congress and the aides and companies it didn’t get help from.
The House Committee on Ethics said in December 2016 that it was investigating the Alpine Republican representing the 50th District — but didn’t tell why.
The Hunters face sentencing and possible prison time. Hunter, 43, will hear his fate March 17, and Margaret Hunter, 44, is set for sentencing April 13, also in Judge Thomas Whelan’s downtown federal courtroom.
Federal prosecutors had alleged in a 60-count indictment that the Hunters misspent more than $250,000 over 10 years.
*Carly DeBeikes disputes the OCE report, saying she never was a Hunter staff assistant as it contended, and told Times of San Diego: “I fully cooperated with the OCE’s review.”
Updated at 5:37 p.m. Dec. 31, 2019.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: