California congressman who wanted to gut ethics office has some hare-raising expenses

A flight on United Hare-lines creates controversy.

Not Rep. Duncan Hunter’s rabbit. CREDIT: IStock
Not Rep. Duncan Hunter’s rabbit. CREDIT: IStock

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) used $600 in campaign funds for transport of a family rabbit on an airplane. His office called scrutiny of the expense as an example of overreach by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Hunter’s spokesperson Joe Kasper portrayed the Republican congressman as a victim of an investigative oversight office that pursued him too harshly for “mistakes.”

Hunter was among the House Republicans who supported a secret ballot to gut the House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) earlier this week.

The OCE was set up in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against congressional members. The amendment would prohibit anonymous tips from congressional members and would not make the findings public. But hours after the closed doors secret ballot, House Republicans walked back the proposal.

Hunter revealed the rabbit-related expenses as an attempt to diffuse the impact of an upcoming OCE report that has not yet been released.

Hunter has already been forced to reimburse $62,000 of expenses the Congressman billed to his campaign account that were later found to be personal or otherwise inappropriate.

Last year, the Federal Election Commission called on him to explain the $1,302 of Steam Games expenses on his 2015 year end campaign finance disclosure. Hunter said that the charges came from his teenage son and other unauthorized charges on the video game website.

Hunter’s campaign reports also includes “mistaken” expenses that he reimbursed to a surf and skate shop, garage door company, cash payments to his wife and campaign manager, oral surgery, and a jewelry purchase in Italy.

After the trip to Italy, “Hunter voluntarily flagged the mistaken or questionable expenditures, repaid the campaign $12,000, amended disclosure reports and hired an outside law firm to audit the spending,” according to an April 2016 San Diego Union-Tribune report.

Kasper said that the personal expenses and the trip for the rabbit on United Airlines were “nothing more than an oversight. In fact, it’s such an obvious example of a mistake being made but (the office) wants to view it through a lens of possible intent. The same goes for many other expenditures,” the Associated Press reported.

The federal Ethics Reform Act of 1989 prohibits the use of campaign funds for personal expenses to curb donor influence. The House Ethics Committee website also points out that campaign funds cannot be used to “pay for a member’s personal obligations.” Hunter’s primary contributors include defense contractors and others with interests on the committees on which he serves.

Yet for a man who has repaid about tens of thousands in campaign expenditure for personal use, Hunter should perhaps hew closer to the principles listed on his congressional campaign website.

“I’m working to end wasteful spending, reduce the debt and hold government accountable for how it spends our money,” he wrote on his homepage.