Quite the contrast this week between Rep. Darrell Issa, R-49th District, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-50th District, concerning the walk-back on House Republicans’ initial attempt behind closed doors to fill the swamp by way of demolition of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
And Hunter’s press rep says a bunny rabbit is the reason why he voted to gut the independent committee that recently has investigated him for numerous instances of spending campaign funds for personal expenses.
Hunter acknowledges breaking the ethics rules, but blames a variety of sources, including the mistaken use of credit cards by his wife — who doubles as paid campaign manager — due to their colors. He repaid $62,000 of those personal expenses masquerading as campaign funds the week before November’s election.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics was created to investigate allegations of misconduct by lawmakers after several bribery and corruption scandals sent members to prison.
The office has a distinctly North County connection.
It was created in March 2008 after the cases of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., who served more than seven years in prison on bribery and other charges; as well as cases of former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who was charged in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and pleaded guilty to corruption charges and former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., convicted on corruption in a separate case.
Cunningham, of Oceanside although he later moved to Rancho Santa Fe with a house bought with Abramoff money, represented California’s 50th Congressional District, now ironically, or appropriately, occupied by Hunter.
Issa, previously dark on social media, trumpeted his opposition to gutting the office. Hunter, voted…Well, his representative wouldn’t say, after several attempts for comment. However, his rep told the Press Enterprise he voted to gut the independent office that continues investigating Hunter’s transgressions. More on that a bit later.
Under the ethics change pushed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., Monday, the non-partisan Office of Congressional Ethics would have fallen under the control of the House Ethics Committee, which is run by lawmakers.
House Republicans voted 119-74 for the Goodlatte measure despite arguments from Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., against the change.
However, when the smoke cleared Tuesday — and House Republicans were deluged from phone calls from outraged constituents — surprise, they pulled back the ethics change.
When contacted, Issa’s press representative Calvin Moore quickly responded, saying the Vista congressman had opposed gutting the office. Later, Issa posted tweets and on Facebook his opposition to the ethics office evisceration proposal.
On Facebook, Issa posted: “I did not vote in favor of the ethics changes discussed last night in conference. I believe reforms to the Congressional ethics process should be done in an open, transparent, and bipartisan fashion.”
Attempts to smoke out Hunter proved unsuccessful. His press representative, Joe Kasper, didn’t respond to repeated calls for comment. On Hunter’s Facebook page: Bubkis, as in nothing. His last posting was a Dec. 29 reference to the El Cajon veteran of the year.
Hunter clearly voted no and Kasper confirmed this to the conservative Press-Enterprise — which covers only the smallest segment of the 50th District — defending the proposed procedural changes.
His cited reason for wanting to gut House ethics oversight came to light as Kasper addressed one of the many charges brought against Hunter recently by the Office of Congressional Ethics; this one, all new, concerned the congressman’s expenditure of $600 in campaign funds for airline tickets for the — hold on to your carrot — family rabbit.
Kasper called the rabbit travel and other personal expenses “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. Many of Rep. Hunter’s repayments had to do with mistakes under specific circumstances, and in other cases there were bona fide campaign activities connected to expenditures that (the office) was not aware of and didn’t account for.”
Beside the rabbit transportation fees, Hunter, so far, has reimbursed his campaign $62,000 in charges that were either personal in nature or lacked proper documentation. These “included including oral surgery, a garage door, video games, resort stays and a jewelry purchase in Italy.”
Release of the full investigative report into Hunter’s campaign spending was postponed until after this week.
Use of campaign funds for personal benefit is prohibited by federal law, as it might give undue influence to contributors. Most of Hunter’s campaign funds come from defense and transportation companies whose business is affected by committees upon which he serves.
In the Press-Enterprise, Kasper criticized the as-yet-unreleased ethics office report on Hunter, saying “findings or implications are significantly misrepresented or even exaggerated.”
As an example, Kasper mentioned the rabbit transportation fees — which were apparently charged to the campaign credit card by mistake, instead of using airline miles racked up on the campaign dime.
“(The office) has in their report $600 in campaign expenditures for in cabin rabbit transport fees,” Kasper said. “Since travel is often done on (airline) miles – which is entirely permissible – the credit card connected to the account was charged several times even when his children were flying.
“This was 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,” Kasper said. “The same goes for many other expenditures. Many of Rep. Hunter’s repayments had to do with mistakes under specific circumstances, and in other cases there were bona fide campaign activities connected to expenditures that (the office) was not aware of and didn’t account for.”
And “Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!” (NOT)
Campaign disbursements used illegally for Hunter’s personal expenses — most of them incurred in 2015 before a Federal Election Commission complaint became public — 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.