GOP Rep. Hunter under criminal campaign finance investigation

bunnypac-fb-profile-360px.pngThe Justice Department is investigating Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the House Ethics Committee revealed in a statement on Thursday.

The ethics panel was reviewing alleged campaign finance violations by Hunter but has halted that work at the request of the Justice Department, the panel said. 

“The Department of Justice has asked the Committee to defer consideration of this matter and the Committee, following precedent, unanimously voted on March 22, 2017, to defer consideration of this matter at this time,” the House Ethics Committee in a statement.

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent watchdog for the House, has been looking into potential campaign finance violations, according to the report released by OCE. However, the specific allegations has not been released beyond general concerns that Hunter may have used his campaign account to finance personal items.

"Rep. Hunter may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, health care, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries, and other goods,services, and expenses," OCE wrote in its report. "If Rep. Hunter converted funds from his congressional campaign committee for personal use, then he may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law."

Reports surfaced last year that the Hunter had been potentially misusing campaign funds to pay for personal trips to Italy and Hawaii as well as funding his children’s school tuition, in addition to more mundane items like cell phone video games and a garage door. 

Federal law does not allow the use of campaign funds for personal use. Hunter has denied all wrongdoing, with a spokesman attributing the misspent funds to “sloppy bookkeeping.” Hunter has promised to reimburse his campaign committee roughly $65,000, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. However, reports raise questions about additional seemingly personal expenses.

The investigation followed on the heels of a letter sent by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) last spring, pushing for an investigation into those reports. In December, the House Ethics Committee acknowledged that it was reviewing allegations against Hunter.

OCE had voted unanimously in August to refer the allegations to the House Ethics Committee, which would have jurisdiction to further investigate and impose punishments for lawmakers who have broken rules. 

On Thursday, however, the committee announced that the Justice Department had asked it to stand down on investigating Hunter, without specifically confirming that the agency was conducting its own.

Campaign finance reports note that Hunter hired Washington law firm Berke Farah, LLC. From June through December, Hunter has paid the firm more than $32,000, according to Federal Election Commission records tallied by The Hill.

Duncan, who was an early supporter of President Donald Trump during the campaign, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Education Committee and the House Transportation Committee.

Originally published in The Hill on March 23, 2017.