Rep. Duncan Hunter Tries to Remain Relevant
A Review of The Road to Politico Persona Non Grata

February 27, 2019 by Dan Weisman
Congressman Duncan Hunter leaves San Diego federal court on Sept. 24, 2018. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Indicted for campaign finance fraud and awaiting a September federal court trial, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-50th District, CA.) does what he can to remain relevant.

Although he has been banished from congressional committees, and doesn’t respond to non-conservative media outlets, Hunter has continued to make controversial comments and stands, take questionable donations and make suspect re-election campaign expenditures.

Hunter is scheduled to make a rare public appearance March 19. That’s a 90-minute  “All North County Congressional Town Hall” sponsored by North San Diego County chambers of commerce and a local junior college. Rep. Mike Levin (D. 49th District, -CA) along with Hunter will attend.

Being tossed into the congressional trash bin of no-committees-for-you Washington life, along with fellow-first Donald Trump supporter Chris Collins, indicted for insider trading, and Steve King, tossed for repeated racist statements, means Hunter has a lot of time on his hands.

Duncan Hunter, once named most corrupt member of Congress by non-partisan watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pose during a ‘strategy’ session (Source: Facebook)

Committees are the very life blood of congressional work

Bills begin and end their lives in committees, whether they are passed into law or not. Hearings from interest groups and agency bureaucrats are held at the committee and subcommittee level, and committee members play key roles in floor debate about the bills that they foster.

Lacking committees is “a pretty big deal,” Robert Boatright, a political science professor at Clark University, said to the (Riverside, CA) Press-Enterprise. “Legislators without committee assignments are limited in their ability to procure benefits for their districts, and they don’t really have that much to do during the days they spend in Washington.”

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College said: “Politically, Hunter is radioactive. The charges against him involve sleazy corruption, not some great matter of national policy. So his influence on other lawmakers is pretty limited.

“The staff can take care of constituent services,” Pitney continued, “but they typically do not (need) much involvement by the member. Yes, members can sit on the floor and cast votes, but it would be extremely rare for a single vote to decide a major measure.”

Hunter Twitter feed gone wild

Hunter doesn’t use Twitter like Donald Trump. In fact, Hunter barely used his Twitter feed before a narrow 2018 re-election and his 60 count federal indictment for spending over $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, trips, gifts and booze/cigars/girlfriends, starting almost from the day he first took office in 2009 to 2016.

Since then, Hunter has turned into a Twitter fanatic with his office typically posting 2-5 items daily, including video clips and documents, items never seen before on the Hunter feed. Many postings also feature publicity for another of his new passions, television and radio interviews.

Looking forward to joining Brian @kilmeade on @foxnewsradio at 11:20am EST / 8:20am PST. Tune in! https://t.co/IOAOl4a5zF

— Rep. Duncan Hunter (@Rep_Hunter) February 19, 2019

Hunter also has transformed his congressional web site from a sleepy forgotten outpost into a churning public relations machine. He has issued 13 press releases since the November election. Before that 4-month period, he hadn’t issued that many press releases in any 1-year period ever.

Hunter made sure to salute “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” He made sure to boast about a bill he was sponsoring calling for “prohibiting federal funding for ‘sanctuary campuses.’

Hunter found time to applaud Trump’s handling of his the government shutdown saying, “It would be my personal preference that any spending bill passed by Congress include specific funding for a border wall; it is proven effective and is imperative to any effort that involves substantive border security.”

Otherwise, Hunter seems to believe there is some problem with trial lawyers being paid too much in Clean Water Act cases. He also touted measures he termed as “common sense water reform bills.”

Hunter is still allowed to join legislative caucuses

A list of caucus memberships on his House website  includes the Congressional Wine Caucus, Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, and the House Border Security Caucus.

Hunter’s website proudly displays his membership these days on 23 legislative caucuses.

After being sworn in last month, Hunter announced a “First 100-Day Initiative,” according to the Press-Enterprise, which he described in a February constituent newsletter as a series of bills “to implement common-sense reforms that will benefit the lives of everyday Americans.”

They include the AMERICA Act to protect census respondents’ data, the BRAVE Act to raise the burial allowance for veteran families and the No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act, which would deny federal funds to colleges and universities that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to enforce immigration law.

These initiatives are dead before arrival.

Hunter legislation in the news

Lest we forget, the only sole legislation of any significance passed by Hunter was what he termed “a sarcastic” amendment to the Department of Defense annual authorization bill. The measure requiring women to register for the Selective Service passed with Hunter voting against his own proposal.

“The House Armed Services Committee took a big and unexpected step toward making women register for the draft as a handful of Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday night to back a measure whose own sponsor hoped would fail,” according to The Washington Post.

As the New York Times said, “Representative Duncan D. Hunter, Republican of California, introduced the initial amendment to expand the draft to women in April 2016, but voted against it. Mr. Hunter introduced it to ‘force the conversation’ in Congress about the administration’s new policy, said his chief of staff, Joe Kasper.”

Female soldiers carry out a ruck march in 2011 at Fort Bragg, N.C., during the Cultural Support Assessment and Selection program, which identified women to serve alongside elite U.S. soldiers with U.S. Army Special Operations Command in cultural support teams in war zones (Source: Staff Sgt. Russell Klika)

Unfortunately, Hunter’s only major piece of legislation was stripped from the final bill.

However, Hunter’s sarcastic position may yet become law someday. A federal judge in Texas last week declared that an all-male military draft is unconstitutional, ruling that “the time has passed” for a debate on whether women belong in the military.

U.S. District Judge Gray Miller ruled that while historical restrictions on women serving in combat “may have justified past discrimination,” men and women are now equally able to fight. In 2015, the Pentagon lifted all restrictions for women in military service.

The ruling came in the form of a declaratory judgment and not an injunction, according to Yahoo News, meaning the court didn’t specifically order the government how to change Selective Service to make it constitutional.

Campaign spending and campaign receiving continues

Hunter’s campaign donations have slowed, but what he has lost from the general public appears to have been made up, in large part, by special interests with interest in whatever power he continues to wield, or something.

The San Diego Union Tribune last week reported that in the last five weeks of 2018, Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign reported spending hundreds of dollars at a local amusement park and made $2,000 in charges — now disputed — to a technology company that flies drones.

The spending at Belmont Park in Mission Beach and the disputed charges at Bytesignal, a Missouri-based technology company, are among $119,861 in expenditures Hunter’s campaign disclosed to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, in a financial report covering Nov. 27 through Dec. 31. During the same weeks, the campaign reported raising $2,376.

As an aside, The Union Tribune’s examination of Hunter’s latest fundraising came up with the fact that $2,000 of $2,376 his campaign committee raised in the latest filing period, came from what the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors activities of hate groups and extremists, calls an anti-immigration hate group.

That $2,000 came from Keller4America, the principal campaign committee for Craig Keller, a Republican candidate from Washington who ran for Congress in 2018 and was defeated in the November elections.

Keller founded a Seattle-based group called Respect Washington, which has fought against “sanctuary” cities that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officials, according to the Seattle Times.

Duncan Hunter vaping it up at his congressional office (Source: AP file photo)

Donors also gave to a special fund established by Rep. Duncan Hunter to underwrite his legal defense include the board member of the company founded by his uncle and multibillion dollar defense contractors, according to Roll Call.

Hunter can tap $60,800 in donations to a piggybank separate from his campaign committee — called the Duncan D. Hunter Legal Expense Trust — to finance his legal case. The story was first reported by the San Diego Union Tribune from Hunter’s quarterly finance report obtained from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Donors included Tyler A. Lowrey, a member of the board of directors for Litel Instruments, a San Diego technology company founded by Robert O. Hunter Jr., the congressman’s uncle, the paper reported.

The trust fund also reported contributions from two top executives connected to defense contractors: Linden Blue, vice chairman of General Atomics; and Gene W. Ray, former chief executive at the Titan Corporation and managing director of GMT Ventures, which consults burgeoning technology and defense companies.

Leave it to Duncan

Otherwise, Hunter is spending all his time on doing what he does, which is to say trying to appear relevant.

Without committees, Boatright told the Press-Enterprise Hunter could try to boost his influence in caucuses and informal working groups.

“Otherwise, start thinking through job options for what to do after Congress!” Botright said. “Or spend more time in the district (and) treat the lack of committee assignments like a sort of sabbatical.”

Hunter’s staff “will put out material making it seem as if he is doing a lot, even though he is not,” Pitney said.

“Trying to be an effective House member without serving on a committee is like trying to play in the Super Bowl without leaving the locker room. You can’t do it.”

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