June 14, 2016
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) has come under fire for charging thousands of dollars in personal expenses to his campaign, leading to FEC and Ethics complaints from CREW. Beyond the expenses he has admitted to being inappropriate—video games, oral surgery, a garage door opener—we’ve also found issues with what his campaign classifies as “Food & Beverages.”
Food and beverage spending is typical for a campaign. Pizza for staff and volunteers, catering for a fundraiser, those types of things. For Congressman Duncan Hunter, however, “Food and Beverages” for his campaign tends to have a wider—and not necessarily legal—definition.
As we first highlighted in our complaints against the Hunter campaign, the campaign spent $216 on “food/beverages” at a jewelry store in Italy (the store told the San Diego Union-Tribune it “sells no food or drink”). The paper also spotted $229 at Disneyland’s Star Trader gift shop for campaign “food/beverages,” though “the only edible items the store sells are Pez candy and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispy treat.” It is unclear what campaign activity took place at Disneyland, given that Rep. Hunter posted a photo of his family riding Space Mountain a couple days later.
But there are many more questionable food and beverage expenses that have not yet been reported.
There are two charges at Sea World for $29 and $42 on July 31, 2015. The Hunters have paid back charges at Legoland, but it appears they are letting Disneyland and Sea World stand.
In the last two years, the vaping Congressman has two “Food & Beverages” campaign purchases at Temecula’s “Smoker Land 2” for a total of $227. It should be noted, they told us that they specialize in cigars and do not sell vaping equipment.
But what about when he buys actual food and beverages? DC bar and restaurant Bullfeathers has been described as one of “the [two] ‘tried and true’ House-side hangouts…for Republicans.” In 2015, Hunter had 28 campaign purchases there—roughly one for every five or six days the House was in session—for a total of $3,444.00. In June and July, when the House was at peak activity with 33 days in session, Hunter had 13 purchases at Bullfeathers. What campaign activity was going on every couple days at a House Republican watering hole while the lone person working on the campaign was across the country?
Starting around Thanksgiving 2014, the Hunter campaign has averaged a nearly weekly purchase at grocery stores—at more than $100 a pop. During this time, the campaign had no payroll or staff salaries, only a monthly check to Hunter’s wife, listed as a homemaker, for campaign consulting. The Hunters run the campaign out of their own home.
One of the most common—and questionable—food and beverage expenses the Hunter campaign has disclosed this cycle have been charged at Ki’s Restaurant in Cardiff, CA. Despite being outside of his district and more than 40 miles from his home-based campaign office, Hunter charged 21 visits to the campaign between April 2015 and March 2016, for a total of $1,300. The average charge of $62 would be consistent with a meal for two.
But it gets stranger. Thirteen of the charges to Ki’s Restaurant came on days in which Hunter voted in Congress, with five more on days that voting and credit card records suggest he was likely in DC as well. The San Diego-Union Tribune reported a couple weeks after the final reported charge at Ki’s that “Hunter said he and his wife were the only two holders of his campaign’s credit card, which incurred most of the [personal] expenses. As of Thursday morning, he said, he is now the only card-holder.”
It’s clear that the Hunters have a lot of explaining left to do. Campaign funds cannot be used for personal expenses. When you say you’re spending money on food and beverages for the campaign, it has to be used for food and beverages for the campaign. There are serious questions whether that is what happened in these cases.
Of course, there are many more questions about the Hunter campaign’s spending beyond these food and beverage issues that have yet to be answered. Like why did they spend $290 on “ammo”? Or why doesn’t their math add up?