Congressman and his wife plead not guilty to campaign spending charges

According to the recent indictment, Hunter and his wife illegally used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that they could not otherwise afford.

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Image Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Charged in a 60-count indictment for spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds to pay for personal expenses while filing false campaign finance records, Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, pleaded not guilty Thursday in San Diego federal court. In addition to family vacations to Hawaii and Italy, the California congressman and his wife allegedly spent campaign funds on school tuition, dental work, golf outings, and video games.

According to the recent indictment, Hunter and his wife illegally used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that they could not otherwise afford. From 2009 to 2016, the Hunters allegedly dipped into the campaign fund approximately 200 times to pay for personal expenses, including family vacations, Pittsburgh Steelers tickets, tequila, a pet rabbit, groceries, home utilities, and expensive meals.

To conceal their personal spending, the Hunters mischaracterized the purchases in Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings as “campaign travel,” “dinner with volunteers/contributors,” “toy drives,” “teacher/parent and supporter events,” “gift cards” for charitable donations, and “gift basket items,” among other false descriptions. 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 Riverdance at the San Diego Civic Theater became “San Diego Civic Center for Republican Women Federated/Fundraising.” And to disguise their children’s tuition payments to Christian Unified Schools in El Cajon, the Hunters allegedly provided several conflicting explanations, including that the payments were charitable contributions.

After the San Diego Union-Tribune and SEC began questioning some of Hunter’s campaign expenses as potentially personal, a criminal investigation was launched in June 2016. On Tuesday, the Hunters were indicted on 60 counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, falsification of records, bank fraud and aiding and abetting in the prohibited use of campaign contributions.

“The indictment alleges that Congressman Hunter and his wife repeatedly dipped into campaign coffers as if they were personal bank accounts, and falsified FEC campaign finance reports to cover their tracks,” stated U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman on Tuesday. “Elected representatives should jealously guard the public’s trust, not abuse their positions for personal gain. Today’s indictment is a reminder that no one is above the law.”

On Thursday, the Hunters appeared in court and pleaded not guilty. Duncan Hunter was released on a $15,000 bond secured by the signature of a related, financially responsible adult, while his wife released on a $10,000 similar bond. Besides submitting to drug testing and forfeiting his two guns, Hunter was also restricted to only traveling within the continental U.S.

Accused of illegally spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, the Hunters are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 4.

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