The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it is continuing an investigation into possible ethics violations by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., following an inquiry launched by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
The ethics panel did not disclose the nature of the investigation, but a Washington-based watchdog group filed a complaint last spring alleging that Hunter improperly used campaign funds to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses such as trips to Hawaii and Italy and tuition for Hunter’s school-age children.
Hunter, 40, won a fifth term last month representing the San Diego area.
A spokesman for Hunter called the ethics announcement standard procedure and said Hunter has already reimbursed the campaign committee about $49,000.
Hunter made the payment last month after securing a loan arranged by a family acquaintance who was convicted of murder in the 1970s after shooting to death a business partner who was having an affair with his wife. Hunter was unaware of that history, and the broker said it was irrelevant to the loan, the newspaper reported.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said he was glad the ethics panel was taking up the investigation and said he hopes the public announcement “means this will be a serious investigation.”
The ethics panel said its announcement does not reflect a judgment that a violation has occurred.
Questions about his campaign spending began with a Federal Election Commission inquiry in the spring and led Hunter to repay his campaign $12,000. The latest reimbursement came after Hunter launched an independent audit to identify other improper spending.
Federal law forbids spending of campaign funds for personal purposes or benefit, to guard against corrupting influences by donors. In Hunter’s case, defense contractors and others with interests before committees on which he serves are his primary contributors.
“While the charges were primarily authorized by the campaign, the buck stops with me and I take full responsibility — including the responsibility to determine and implement other structural changes to ensure errors are not repeated,” Hunter said in a statement.
Hunter had blamed the mix-ups on the color of his credit cards. His wife, Margaret, is paid $3,000 a month as campaign manager, and Hunter said in April she would no longer be using the campaign charge card.
Campaign disbursements used illegally for Hunter’s personal expenses — most of them incurred in 2015 before the Federal Election Commission complaint — included:
106 fill-ups at gas stations, totaling $5,660.
16 trips to Jack in the Box totaling $297.
Forty trips to Albertson’s, Trader Joe’s or another grocery store, spending $6,819 total.
An expense for $229 at a Disneyland gift shop for “food/beverages.” A spokesman for the park told the Union-Tribune the only edible items the store sells are Pez candy and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispy treat.
Utilities — $1,269 for San Diego Gas & Electric and $300 to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District.
More than $2,000 on restaurants, hotels and train travel in the Italian cities of Rome, Florence and Positano during the Thanksgiving holiday week in 2015.
A payment for $216 to Gioielleria Manetti in Florence, listed on a disclosure report as “food/beverages.” The store makes and customizes jewelry and watches, according to its website. A store representative said it offers no food or drinks.
$1,300 spent at the Cardiff-by-the-Sea restaurant that provides lunches to Hunter’s children’s El Cajon private school.