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rep. hunter mixed personal and paign expenses, trips

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rep. hunter mixed personal and paign expenses, trips

among tens of thousands of dollars that rep. duncan hunter paid back to his paign treasury in november were two cryptic charges to feis productions, totaling $230.

no explanation was offered for repayment of the expense, originally reported as event entertainment. but it turns out feis productions coordinates irish dance festivals where hunter’s daughters compete.

hunter, r-alpine, also spent paign funds at els during dance competitions — one in los angeles, one in orange county and one at the arizona grand resort & spa in phoenix. 

» interactive map of hunter’s expenses

only the arizona charges have been reimbursed to the paign since hunter set out to make good on $65,000 worth of personal, mistaken or undocumented charges that he had covered with paign money.

the dance competitions illustrate two aspects of the ongoing hunter imbroglio, as a report by the office of congressional ethics report nears release. 

one is the extent to which his personal and paign lives be e entwined. the other is that — although voluminous — hunter’s reimbursements to his paign may not account for all the charges that were personal in nature.  

hunter’s chief of staff, joe kasper, attributed the majority of the reimbursed charges to sloppy bookkeeping. he said all the paign’s expenses have been thoroughly audited and the charges hunter did not repay were all permissible.

“for expenditures not repaid, there was an official or unofficial connection to the expenditure,” kasper said. “based on the audit, he believes all expenses have been sufficiently accounted for, covered above and beyond, in excess. and he went significantly further for expenses that were legit but lacked the proper documentation and/or support.”

the paign declined the san diego union-tribune’s request for records of any of the charges kasper described as documented. 

use of paign funds for personal benefit is prohibited by federal law, as it might give undue influence to contributors. most of hunter’s paign funds come from defense and transportation companies whose business is affected by committees on which he serves.

larry noble, general counsel for the paign legal center, a public interest group in washington, d.c., said sloppy bookkeeping doesn’t answer legitimate questions about charges hunter has repaid or not repaid. 

“having to collect all these things after the fact does suggest sloppiness and lack of detail, and you have to wonder, ‘how far does this go, and what other rules are not being followed?’” noble said. “you can’t avoid all questions and review of what you’re doing by saying, ‘we kept sloppy records.’ ”

‘all permissible’

u-t watchdog compared hunter’s itemized paign expenses from january 2015 through november 2016 to the accounting of reimbursed charges the paign has included in memos and special reports to the federal election commission. hunter repaid his paign with a $57,000 loan against his alpine home, which has since sold.

the review found several instances in which certain expenses, although similar to those that were repaid, did not get reimbursed.

hunter repaid $633 to arizona grand resort & spa in phoenix for travel and food/beverages purchased in january 2016, when his daughter competed in a dance event there. 

hunter did not reimburse another $779 the paign spent in february 2016 at the hyatt el when the daughter performed at a hyatt in orange county. 

hunter also did not reimburse the paign for $219 it spent at westin els on sept. 29, 2015, coinciding with an irish dance competition at the westin in los angeles, where another of hunter’s daughters competed and placed in two events.

hunter’s trip to phoenix was “for purposes of coordinating a charity event he co-hosts annually, which is extended to donors and supporters,” kasper said in the statement, adding that hunter “met with a coordinator” who lives in arizona.

“due to travel constraints, hunter timed it to his daughter's event rather than making multiple trips,” kasper said. “all permissible.”

as for los angeles, hunter “had an official event that coincided with timing — due to ease of coordinating schedules,” kasper said.

kasper did not address questions about the paign’s spending at the hyatt in orange county. 

ethics and paign law experts said candidates who mix personal business with paign activity need to be careful because it’s a gray area of the law, and it’s easy to make mistakes.

“you can’t just use paign funds to pay for personal expenses by dreaming up a hypothetical way in which the expenses are related to your duties as an officeholder,” said brett kappel, an attorney at akerman llp in washington, d.c., who is a noted expert in paign laws and ethics rules. “it has to be concrete.”

robert e. andrews, d-new jersey, resigned in february 2014 amid a house ethics committee investigation involving his alleged personal spending of paign money. the paign paid costs for a family trip to attend a supporter’s wedding in scotland, and for trips to los angeles that andrews took with his daughter, according to the office of congressional ethics report that prompted the ethics committee investigation.

the ethics office alleged andrews’ activities fell short of “bona fide paign activity,” and the spending was therefore personal. the house committee on ethics dropped the investigation after andrews resigned.

utilities, cigars

members of congress are prohibited from paying utility bills for their residence, even if part of it is used for paign purposes, because the candidate would have to pay for those costs anyway, according to fec paign guide.

hunter repaid his paign $2,743 in charges to utilities for services provided while his paign was operating out of his home, including water and power.

hunter also reimbursed $1,174 his paign had paid to cox communications, some listed as charges for utilities and some as internet — but he did not repay an additional $1,730 paid to cox. the paign did not explain why some charges were repaid and others were not.

the fec specifies some types of expenses that are “automatic” personal use of paign funds. home utilities are on the list, as is “food purchased for daily consumption inside the home or supplies needed to maintain the household” and entertainment that is not part of a specific officeholder or paign activity.

hunter repaid his paign as much as $11,145 for unspecified “food/beverages” at stores that sell groceries, including albertsons and vons — but not nine charges totaling $1,326 at haggen.

entertainment is considered personal use if it is “a leisure outing at which the discussion occasionally focuses on the paign or official functions,” according to the manual.

hunter’s paign made seven payments totaling $1,541 to excalibur cigar lounge, in clairemont mesa. the paign made four payments totaling $703 to alpine tobacco company. hunter’s paign also paid four charges totaling $774 to smoker land 2, in temecula. none have been reimbursed.

kasper did not answer questions about what kind of paign or official events occurred at the lounges.

an employee at smoker land 2 said she didn’t know of any big paign events hunter has hosted there, but he has an office nearby and hunter and people who work in the office occasionally drop by for lunch. 

italy trip

hunter took a trip to italy with his family during the thanksgiving holiday week in 2015.

a year later, the congressman repaid $2,245 in charges related to the trip — for els, restaurants, transportation and a purchase from a jewelry store that kasper said was mistakenly reported to the fec as “food/beverages.”

three expenses from the trip were not reimbursed, totaling $315, paid to the el san gallo palace, a four-star el in florence.

citizens for responsibility and ethics in washington, an ethics advocacy group based in washington, d.c., included the travel expenses in its complaint to the office of congressional ethics. in august, the office referred the matter to the house committee on ethics for further review.

kasper did not address the charges directly when the union-tribune questioned him in april about the italian expenditures at popular tourist destinations including rome, florence and positano. earlier this month, kasper told the washington post that “the italian trip was for ‘an arran ent with the military overseas’ that was canceled.”

kasper declined to offer any explanation of why hunter did not reimburse the charges at the el san gallo palace. 

as for the $217 purchase at the italian jewelry and watch store, gioielleria manetti, in florence, kasper said hunter reimbursed the purchase because he wasn’t isfied with its supporting documentation. kasper wouldn’t say what exactly hunter bought, but he said it was “an item that was donated at a charity event.”

kaser would not say who received the item or the name of the charity involved.

els and restaurants

experts say the fec and house ethics officials tend to give candidates a lot of discretion when it comes to expenses related to face-to-face fundraising meetings and events, including venues and supplies that can be purchased for money-raising efforts.

hunter reimbursed his paign $9,981 for 14 charges at els in italy, arizona, hawaii and boise, idaho. records show 88 el expenses that were not reimbursed, totaling $38,166.

among the unreimbursed payments are thousands of dollars in charges for stays at luxury els including caesars palace in las vegas and an unspecified waldorf astoria ( paign records list the expense paid to the el’s corporate office). 

hunter has repaid his paign for 26 charges totaling $2,055 at bars and restaurants, including an encinitas eatery that provided meals to his children’s private school in el cajon. hunter has not repaid another 204 restaurant and bar charges totaling $61,544.

the unreimbursed charges include meals at high-end restaurants and steakhouses, such as cut las vegas and island prime in san diego, as well as frequent lower-cost meals at popular bars and restaurants.

the reimbursed expenses at lower-cost restaurants include $38 to rubio’s coastal grill, a mexican fast food chain. hunter did not reimburse at least four other charges there, totaling $115.

giving to charity

hunter’s paign has donated generously to charity, fec records show. it has reported expenses as gifts or items for gift baskets for various charities, donors and community organizations, often for fundraising and events.

hunter has repaid the paign $2,904 of the at least $4,507 in expenses listed as such.

in most cases, the paign did not disclose the specific organization or people supported by the donation items. items were purchased from a variety of retailers, including nordstrom, macy’s and the north face outdoor clothing outfitters. 

hunter repaid a $145 payment his paign made nov. 23, 2015, to barnes and noble booksellers for “donor acknowled ents.”

four other paign expenditures totaling $413 for “donor acknowled ents” have not been repaid. the payments were $62 and $67 to see’s candy, $58 to the u.s. capitol gift shop, and $227 to the white house historical ociation. 

fec rules permit paigns to give charitable donations, as long as the donation was not used for any purpose that personally benefited the candidate — or any individual. kasper was asked about the charity expenses, and did not address them. 

in a statement generally addressing the entirety of the unreimbursed expenses the union-tribune questioned, kasper said, “if there was an issue with an expenditure, it would have been repaid either because it was in error or lacked sufficient information or documentation. again, the audit was thorough and hunter takes no issue with its findings.”

separate from the paign’s own audit, hunter’s expenses were reviewed by the house office of congressional ethics. the group’s report was held up during the transition in congress but is expected to be released within days. kasper has criticized the report’s authors for leaping to conclusions about certain hunter charges, such as $600 in airfare for a pet rabbit. kasper says the expense was a simple mistake, since rectified.

previously: hunter

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