ESCONDIDO — The Indivisible North San Diego County movement continued with another of its rallies against local politicians — this one, held on Saturday, was aimed at Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine).
Hunter, whose 50th District includes a portion of Escondido, is the subject of a criminal investigation over possible ethics violations alleging he may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds for personal use.
Some of those personal uses reported include family trips to Italy and Hawaii, an oral surgeon, private school tuition for his children and video games.
People out front of the main entrance to the Westfield North County Mall on Via Rancho Parkway carried signs calling out Hunter for his alleged ethical actions, and some wore rabbit ears — a nod to Hunter’s spending of $600 to fly the family’s pet rabbit during his campaign, as initially reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The House Ethics Committee, which has been reviewing allegations that Hunter “converted campaign funds to personal use to pay expenses that were not legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures attributable to bona fide campaign of political purposes,” since last year, agreed on March 23, according to a press release, to put its review on hold based on a request from the Department of Justice.
According to media reports, the halting of the Ethics Committee’s review suggests the beginning of a criminal investigation into the matter.
Hunter, who was first elected in 2008, is reported to have paid back some $60,000 of the money charged to his campaign expenses.
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which brought a complaint to the ethics office last April regarding Hunter’s spending, issued a statement on the House Ethics Commission deferring the investigation saying, “Rep. Hunter has shown a blatant disregard for the rules, spending tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign for his personal benefit. This is the most egregious Congressional spending scandal since Aaron Schock.”
Schock, last year, was indicted on 24 criminal counts for allegedly stealing government funds, fraud, making false statements and false tax returns, according to a Chicago Tribune story.
“We are glad to see the Office of Congressional Ethics voted unanimously for an investigation and will be closely following the FBI’s criminal investigation into Congressman Hunter,” Bookbinder’s statement concluded.
Debbie Resler, a resident in Hunter’s district, said on Saturday that she’s been pretty much underwhelmed by his level of maturity and attitudes on a whole number of issues.
As one of the rally participants, Resler said she was hoping to accomplish two things with these continued protests: “One is making him realize that for as long as he remains in office that he needs to represent all of his constituents, and he seems like he’s been afraid to listen to the viewpoint of a number of his constituents if it differs from his own,” she said. “But he represents us as well as the others.
“And I think the other thing is that he’s been pretty complacent, and I think he feels like he’s entitled, and owns his own seat, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think this is a big wake up call for him.”
With the investigation into Hunter underway, Resler said she could understand if the charges were an isolated event.
“I can understand if Hunter’s wife, (who also serves as his campaign manager) or somebody pulled the campaign (credit) card by accident, but the number and the scope and the length of time…that’s not an accident. It’s either incredible incompetence or complete indifference. I don’t want either in my elected official.”
Gregory A. Vega, a lawyer representing Hunter declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation.