On Tuesday, federal judge Thomas J. Whelan of the District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego sentenced former Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) to 11 months in prison on the basis of Hunter pleading guilty on one count of violating campaign finance laws.
Misuse of over $250,000 of campaign funds
Hunter, a former Congressman for the 50th Congressional district in San Diego from 2009 to 2020, had agreed to a plea deal in December. His wife, Margaret Hunter, agreed to a similar plea in June for a single count of conspiracy. Prosecutors had found many personal expenditures that paid directly from campaign money, including more than $250,000 to pay for rounds of golf, plane tickets, expensive household items, and a vacation to Italy.
Many media outlets latched on to the more dramatic and ridiculous specifics, such as the family rabbit getting plane tickets from campaign fund money and other campaign funds being used by Duncan Hunter to pursue 5 extramarital affairs with aides and lobbyists between 2009 and 2016. The ways the Hunters attempted to cover up purchases also fueled outrage, such as family dental bills being listed as a charity donation to “Smiles for Life,” and Riverdance tickets also being tied to a non-existent charity.
At first, Duncan Hunter denied any wrongdoing claiming that it was all a “witch hunt,” even getting re-elected in 2018 with the charges looming over him and his campaign. However, as the evidence grew against the Hunters going into 2019, both finally reached their breaking point when a total of 60 counts were against them. After their plea deals, both Duncan and Margaret released statements acknowledging their guilt.
Duncan Hunter specifically signed a part of his plea acknowledging that “the object of the conspiracy was for the Hunters to convert campaign funds for their own personal benefit and enjoyment, and for the personal benefit of others with whom they had personal relationships.”
Hunter had been looking at as much as 5 years in prison for his campaign finance violations, although prosecutors were only going for 14 months.
The end of the road for the Hunters
“Everyone liked him,” said Imperial County campaigner Candace McComb. “He had fought in the Middle East, then came back to take over for his dad in Congress. It seemed like a classic Congressman story. But then a few years ago, he went from the golden child to a skeevy politician. You know, voters can forgive campaign misuse if it was smaller and proven to be accidental. But spending campaign donations on affairs and a plane ticket for a bunny? A lot of people are struggling in his district and yet still donated because they believed in him. And then they saw their money go to something like that or a trip to Hawaii or something.”
“It hasn’t been too long since the judge gave him jail time but no one is upset about it here, at least from what I can tell. He obviously did wrong and tried to lie about it. It grew to be so much that even many of his defenders couldn’t defend him anymore.”
While Duncan’s sentencing is set, the investigation and trial, which has been going on for over three years following a 2017 FBI raid on Duncan Hunter’s offices, is not yet over. His wife Margaret, who participated with him in the campaign fund misuse, is due to receive her sentence on April 7th.
“She’ll get off lighter in all likelihood,” added McComb. “They have children, and judges always put that into consideration. But the prosecution isn’t exactly backing down either, so this isn’t over just yet.”