Representative Duncan Hunter, the vaping Republican from California, has already gotten in trouble this election season for his re-election campaign’s reckless spending. Now, a watchdog group has called for his finances to be audited, after discovering that the congressman may have used campaign funds to pay for a family trip to Italy last Thanksgiving.
According to a letter sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) to the Federal Election Commission, the expenses in Italy included “payments to hotels and restaurants in Rome, Florence and Positano, payments for train tickets, and other travel costs. One particularly suspect expense was reported by the committee as being for ‘food/beverages,’ but the payment was made to a jewelry store.”
“It is likely this payment was not campaign-related,” the letter states. None of those payments have been identified as personal or mistaken.
Earlier this month, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, Hunter personally reimbursed his campaign committee $12,000 for payments made to his children’s school, an oral and facial surgeon, and for “event support items” and “event donation items,” following an initial inquiry from the FEC.
“The charges should never have happened but regardless of who made them and when, Congressman Hunter is taking full responsibility—and that includes responsibility for resolution,” Hunter’s Congressional spokesman, Joe Kasper, said in a statement.
In its most recent filing, the campaign identifies $2,023 in “mistaken” payments to Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who is also his campaign manager, and who has received $116,000 in payments and $14,000 in reimbursements from the Hunter Committee since 2010.
CREW sent letters to the FEC, requesting an audit, and to the Office of Congressional Ethics, requesting an investigation. “The Hunter campaign appears to have a pattern of spending campaign funds on personal expenses, a pattern the campaign has acknowledged,” Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a press release.
“Campaign finance rules are in place to prevent self-enrichment and improper influence,” he continued. “You simply cannot use your campaign for your own personal benefit.”
Hunter came to national prominence earlier this year when he took a languid drag from his electronic cigarette during a congressional hearing. Two of the largest tobacco firms, Reynolds American and Altria Group—which also made e-cigs—have contributed at least $14,500 to Hunter’s re-election bid.
According to its most recent filing, on February 24, 2016, the Hunter campaign spent $310 at Alpine Tobacco Company, in Alpine, California, on “food/beverages.” On March 11, the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA) made a $1,000 donation to Duncan; the donation was refunded later that month.