As a rule, when people talk about politicians being in bed with lobbyists, the rhetoric isn’t intended to be taken literally.
Justice Department prosecutors alleged on Monday that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) used campaign contributions to have multiple extramarital affairs, including a $1,000 ski vacation with a female lobbyist.
According to the court filing, Hunter started using the campaign funds to “carry out a series of intimate relationships” with five women soon after he first entered office in 2009.
The first woman (“Individual 14”) was a lobbyist. For about three years, Hunter dipped into his campaign contributions to pay for a couple’s ski getaway (which cost more than $1,000), a road trip to Virginia Beach, and hotel stays, according to prosecutors.
TPM’s report added that the Republican congressman’s alleged relationship with the lobbyist ended in 2012 – he’d been married for roughly 14 years at the time – though prosecutors have accused Hunter of having four other affairs over the course of the four years that followed. Donors allegedly picked up the tab for expenses related to each of the relationships.
While these claims against the indicted GOP lawmaker will still need to be proven in court, the allegations do help contextualize matters a bit.
In case anyone needs a refresher, the GOP congressman and his wife were charged last summer, and the criminal indictment was quite brutal: federal prosecutors alleged that the Hunters stole more than $250,000 in campaign funds and used the money to pay for personal purchases, ranging from trips to school tuition to dental work to veterinary care.
As if that weren’t enough, the Hunters allegedly went to great lengths to cover up the scheme: according to prosecutors, they made fraudulent claims that their purchases were for charities, including veterans’ charities. A Washington Post report added that the prosecutors’ allegations “read like a caricature of a corrupt, greedy politician.”
The California Republican’s defense has evolved a bit over time.
Hunter initially suggested the charges were a partisan scheme concocted by Democrats. This was literally unbelievable: the charges were brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, which is led by a Trump appointee, who was chosen for the post by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Soon after, the congressman seemed to blame his wife, telling Fox News, “She was also the campaign manager, so whatever she did that’ll be looked at too, I’m sure. But I didn’t do it.”
Though both of them initially pleaded not guilty, that changed two weeks ago, when Margaret Hunter changed her plea, admitted that the allegations raised by prosecutors are true, and gave every indication that she’s now cooperating with the prosecution.
It stands to reason her husband’s alleged “series of intimate relationships” had something to do with her decision.
Postscript: The last time I wrote about this a reader emailed to ask about the worst-case scenario for the congressman. Every case has its own relevant details, but it’s worth noting for context the last time a federal lawmaker was accused of widespread misuse of campaign funds – then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) in 2013 – he went to prison for more than a year.
Jackson, however, likely received a relatively light sentence because he pleaded guilty. Hunter, at least for now, has insisted he’s done nothing wrong.