Here’s how prosecutors say Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife illegally spent $250K in campaign funds
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) was indicted Tuesday on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, falsification of records related to campaign finance and prohibited use of campaign contributions after allegedly spending at least seven years misusing campaign funds for his and his family’s personal use.
The 41-year-old was the second member of Congress to endorse President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The first, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), was indicted Aug. 8 on charges of insider trading.
According to the indictment, Hunter and his wife, Margaret Hunter, allegedly used more than $250,000 in campaign funds “to purchase goods and services for their personal use and enjoyment.” The indictment also detailed the pair’s alleged conspiracy to carry out their scheme.
“The goal of the conspiracy was for Duncan Hunter and Margaret Hunter to enrich themselves, and others at their direction, by converting campaign funds for their own personal benefit and enjoyment and for the personal benefit of others with whom the Hunters had personal relationships,” the indictment reads.
How the Hunters allegedly spent $250,000
The 47-page indictment chronicles the myriad ways in which the Hunters allegedly used campaign money from December 2009 through “at least the end of 2016” to pay for everything from family vacations to household goods. According to the indictment, the Hunters may have done so as a result of their personal financial situation: The two allegedly overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times over a seven-year period.
Their financial situation, however, did not stop them from allegedly spending money on vacations to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, London and elsewhere. Other purchases reportedly included more than $15,000 in plane tickets and hotel rooms, including a $600 plane ticket for a pet rabbit.
According to the indictment, Margaret Hunter funded the trips using campaign funds through Expedia, believing the locations would not be revealed on official campaign records.
Most egregiously, the couple allegedly spent more than $14,000 in campaign funds on a trip to Italy in 2015. The indictment claims Duncan Hunter tried to schedule a tour of a U.S. naval facility to justify use of the funds; when he was told the tour could only be provided on a certain date, Hunter allegedly told his chief of staff to “tell the Navy to go f*** themselves,” after which the tour did not take place.
Hunter and his wife allegedly used campaign funds to pay for travel related to a family member’s dance competitions. According to the indictment, Margaret Hunter also purchased souvenirs — including Minnie Mouse ear headbands and Star Wars apparel — at the International Spy Museum and Disneyland.
The indictment claims the congressman and his wife made a number of other entertainment-related purchases, including tickets to see live performances of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Riverdance; trips to the Del Mar Racetrack; and frequent golf outings. Duncan Hunter allegedly spent $881.60 in campaign funds at the Cottonwood Golf Club alone and, on one occasion, spent $138 to play golf with a “minor family member” after telling his unnamed companion he had “nada, zip, zero” on his official calendar.
Duncan Hunter allegedly spent more than $1,500 in campaign funds on video game charges at Steam Games. After the campaign’s treasurer and the Federal Election Commission inquired about those charges, Margaret Hunter falsely claimed the charges were fraudulent, after which the bank credited $1,302 back to the campaign’s account.
The Hunters also allegedly used campaign funds to pay for household expenses and food, spending more than $9,000 on groceries and more than $3,300 on fast food. Other purchases reportedly included $235.72 on St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in 2012, $669.07 on an Easter Sunday brunch and $354.25 on drinks during a bachelor party.
Other personal expenses for which the Hunters used campaign funds include more than $11,300 at Costco, $5,700 at Walmart, $2,300 at Target, $2,200 at Michaels craft store and $1,831 at Home Depot, according to the indictment. The family’s cable bill, dental work, water bill, school tuition and a garage door were allegedly paid with campaign contributions; the Hunters also allegedly withdrew more than $4,800 in campaign cash for “primarily personal use.”
To cover up their elaborate personal spending on the campaign’s dime, the Hunters frequently lied about the purpose of their purchases, according to the indictment. Margaret Hunter allegedly claimed a $995 purchase for her mother and her mother’s boyfriend to fly to Warsaw, Poland, was related to campaign trips to New Orleans and Kentucky. She also allegedly told the campaign’s treasurer that family trips to the San Diego Natural History Museum and Prado restaurant in Balboa Park, San Diego, were for “gift basket items and a meal with supporters.”
When the campaign treasurer discovered a charge Duncan Hunter made to “re-cut” pants at Men’s Warehouse, the congressman allegedly replied, “Lol. Men’s Warehouse was a possible semi-embarrassment that I had to let ride. I used the wrong card, then didn’t want to explain the forced refund.”
One of the most glaring excuses detailed in the indictment was allegedly for Hawaiian shorts. When Duncan Hunter complained to his wife he didn’t have money to buy the shorts, she allegedly “counseled” him to make the purchase at a golf pro shop so they could later claim the charge was for “some [golf] balls for the wounded warriors.”
Margaret Hunter also allegedly conjured up excuses to get personally reimbursed for campaign-related business. According to the indictment, she claimed she made a hotel charge with her personal credit card in 2015. She had actually made the charge using the correct card, meaning she effectively stole from the campaign.
An alleged conspiracy for financial benefit
The Hunters’ alleged conspiracy to financially benefit from the campaign went beyond simply lying about their purchases.
Duncan Hunter allegedly installed his wife as his paid campaign manager over the objections of his staff, in part because the couple “needed the extra money” from Margaret Duncan’s salary. He allegedly gave his wife use of the campaign credit card even before she had an official role, ignoring his staff’s warnings about her previous improper spending. The Hunters also attempted to have the campaign’s name taken off its official credit card to more easily “[disguise] the personal nature of many of their campaign expenditures,” according to the indictment.
Margaret Hunter reportedly did not remain her husband’s campaign manager for the entire time period described in the indictment. After media reports about her spending surfaced in 2012, Duncan Hunter dismissed his wife from the campaign, though she still received a salary and maintained access to the campaign’s credit card.
After his treasurer told him the campaign was out of money in December 2012, however, Duncan Hunter stopped paying his wife’s salary and cut off her use of the credit card — only to rehire her roughly a year later to allegedly bring in more income for the family. Margaret Hunter’s salary as campaign manager was officially reauthorized in December 2016, according to the indictment.
The Hunters allegedly conspired on whether they would repay the campaign, agreeing to do so only under certain circumstances, such as if the FEC threatened legal action or the news media requested explanations for certain expenses.
The Hunters did repay some of the expenses, the indictment claims, including $5,245.71 after the campaign treasurer inquired about the couple’s Hawaiian vacation in 2015. They also made two separate payments in 2016, totaling nearly $12,000, in response to news reports about their spending. In Duncan Hunter’s year-end report for the FEC in 2015, the campaign allegedly disclosed 68 personal charges that were “to be paid back” — while still mischaracterizing thousands of dollars in other personal expenses.
According to the indictment, Duncan Hunter repaid the campaign $48,650.98 in November 2016 to cover expenses over the past year he now deemed “personal in nature” or “without adequate support” — but the also indictment noted the congressman “continued to conceal more than $200,000 in personal expense the Hunters had illegally paid with campaign funds.”
Aug. 23, 2018, 10:43 a.m.: This story has been updated.