Duncan Hunter Exposed How Politicians Use OPM
April 15, 2016
The concept of using other people’s money, or OPM, is the goal of most businesses to leverage their capital, but in politics, it seems to be the law of the land.
This week it was revealed that El Cajon Congressman Duncan Hunter used his campaign credit card for personal expenses exceeding $12,000, including expenses for a cosmetic surgeon, several months of his children’s school tuition, and even video games supposedly charged by accident by his son.
The interesting point is that several of the personal charges were identified on campaign disclosures as personal items to be reimbursed, but no reimbursements had been made in over a year. Would he have paid it off without the media attention?
It was not until the expenses were questioned by the media this week that Hunter agreed to reimburse the campaign for $12,000.
Campaign finance laws and U.S. House of Representatives rules restrict candidates from using campaign contributions for personal expenses. Once in a while, politicians get caught misusing their campaign funds and end up paying some small fine for the misdeed.
But something more sinister was discovered in the case of Congressman Hunter that seems to have become an acceptable – yet legally questionable – expenditure; paying his wife from his campaign funds.
In Congressman Hunter’s disclosures, he reported $3,000 monthly payments to his wife, Margaret Hunter, presumably as a fundraiser for his campaign. That money paid to his spouse is, according to California law, jointly their money as a married couple.
House Rule XXIII 6(b) bars the use of campaign funds for personal purposes in saying that “member may not convert campaign funds to personal use in excess of an amount representing reimbursement for legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures”, and House Rule XXIII 6(a) requires that Congress members “shall keep his campaign funds separate from his personal funds.”
How is it, then, that Congressman Hunter can pay his wife and it not become converted to personal use? Surely the additional $36,000 a year in family income in some way benefits the Congressman himself.
Even if Hunter can argue his wife earns the money, the potential perception of corruption, if not in fact corruption, is that Congressman Hunter raises tens of thousands of dollars from defense contractors seeking contracts to build military equipment and supplies. What powerful committee does Congressman Hunter sit on in Washington? The Armed Services Committee that directs military spending of billions of dollars of equipment from the same defense contractors that contribute to his campaign war chest.
Hunter, like most politicians, uses his campaign funds for travel back and forth to Washington, but also for foreign trips to exotic places. Although he claims it is better than using taxpayer funds to travel, the use of campaign fund from contractors creates a sense of sponsorship or patronage from those seeking favors from the Congressman. In Hunter’s case, he used these campaign funds to travel abroad, eat out at fancy Washington restaurants, and even gas up his cars, without having to use his own money.
No one can deny that Congressman Hunter leads a better life through the use of the campaign funds on a day-to-day basis, not just at election time to retain his powerful seat. Hunter already draws a salary of $174,000 per year, plus benefits and retirement pension. Congress members can also continue having outside businesses and collect profits and dividends from those activities, but one thing Congress members are NOT allowed to earn or accept is income that may appear to be intended to influence the way they vote on legislation.
So we are back where we started. Congressman Duncan Hunter collects campaign funds from defense contractors seeking government contracts directed by the committee he sits on, and then pays his wife (and therefore himself) from the money from those companies.
We all remember how another San Diego Congressman, Randy “Duke” Cunningham, took bribes from defense contractors when we served on the same Armed Services Committee. He took cash and free improvements on his home, and even a yacht from the contractors, but he eventually went to prison for it.
Whether it is legal or not, we should question the ethics of politicians living large from money they raise from companies they give contracts to.
It’s no wonder Congress has the lowest public opinion rating of any institution. Its low ratings are well deserved. Now, Duncan Hunter just added an exclamation point.