Donald Trump’s point man in the House of Representatives improperly used campaign funds on videogames and his children’s private Christian school, according to Federal Election Commission filings. And his staff’s explanations for the expenses are not particularly explanatory.
From Sept. 21 through Dec. 16 of last year, Duncan D. Hunter, the Republican congressman from California who endorsed Trump in February, used $1,302 he raised for his reelection campaign on videogame fees. An additional $1,650 was spent on Christian Unified Schools, a private school district in San Diego that serves evangelicals.
Joey Kasper, Hunter’s chief of staff, told The Daily Beast it was all a big misunderstanding that was in the process of “being resolved.”
“I’ve got answers for you,” Kasper said. And he did, although they didn’t really help to clarify anything.
Hunter has been in Congress since 2009, when he succeeded his father, Duncan Hunter Sr., who left his office to run, unsuccessfully, for president. The younger Hunter had put himself through college by founding a Web-design company and then, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he joined the Marines, serving two tours in Iraq. According to his financial disclosures, Hunter does not have much personal wealth to speak of.
According to Kasper, it was Hunter’s 13-year-old son, also named Duncan, who was to blame for the 67 charges, totaling $1,302, from Steam Games. It’s a gaming platform that allows users to play dozens of different games—including seven versions of Call of Duty—on their computers.
The issue of the videogames, Kasper said, was “complicated.”
That was an understatement.
First, Kasper did his best to explain that he wasn’t sure if Hunter’s son had taken his father’s campaign credit card from his wallet without his knowledge, or if the congressman had directed him to take a credit card from his wallet to pay for the games and he mistakenly took the wrong one.
Kasper then claimed that, in fact, all charges from Steam Games after the initial charges in October—which amounted to $310.18 from the 13th through the 26th—were fraudulent, and Hunter’s campaign credit card was subsequently “shut down” in December “in large part because of this.”
However the card made its way to the younger Hunter’s remote-control-holding hands or the hands of a fraudster, the result was that the campaign spent rather a lot of money on videogames over the course of just a few months, which is illegal.
The only way buying videogames with campaign cash could be legal, according to Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, would be in a hypothetical situation like the following: “if he bought videogames for his campaign headquarters to entertain the children of his adult volunteers while the adults phone-banked.”
By FEC law, candidates are prohibited from putting campaign funds to personal use.
Kasper told The Daily Beast, “It’s not the congressman who’s playing them,” but Hunter, who memorably vaped on the floor of the House in February, is himself an outspoken defender of violent games.
In 2013, after a mass shooting, he penned an op-ed for Politico titled, “Target Parenting, Not Games, for Violence,” in which he argued that “videogames are often, but wrongly, identified as a catalyst for violence.”
But perhaps they are a catalyst for recklessly using your campaign credit card for personal expenses, because the matter of the $1,650 given to his children’s school had an even murkier explanation from his office.
“That was actually a donation,” Kasper said. The campaign treasurer, Chris Marston, Kasper claimed, had “mistakenly” assumed it was tuition, and so he listed it on the FEC report with the notation, “PERSONAL EXPENSE—TO BE PAID BACK” when, according to Kasper, it didn’t need to be paid back.
But Kelly Smith, the administrative assistant to the superintendent of Christian Unified Schools, told The Daily Beast that she didn’t “recall” any donation from Hunter or his campaign.
While on the phone, Smith reviewed the files of charitable donations. “It’s not under Hunter for Congress,” she said.
She then looked it up under Hunter’s name.
“No,” she said, “I didn’t get anything from him.”
Later, Kasper contacted The Daily Beast to clarify that “it looks like” what happened was, the payment to the school “showed up on the credit-card statement as being for a tuition payment.” But because the tuition for Hunter’s kids totals $2,200 a month, according to Hunter’s wife—far more than the $1,650 payment made with the campaign credit card—it wouldn’t make sense for it to have been a tuition payment.
It was, Kasper said, a charitable donation to “the annual fund for sports for the school,” but something went wrong—the funds were diverted to “the general fund” Hunter has with the school, which does, in fact, cover tuition for his children, according to what Kasper told The Daily Beast.
“I don’t know how this works out the next day or two,” Kasper said, “but they’re going to look to transfer that out of the general fund and into a sports fund.”
That, he said, explains why there was no record of a charitable donation made by Hunter’s campaign to the school—because, in fact, he used campaign funds to pay his children’s tuition. But now, Kasper promised, Hunter is going to fix it.
On April 4, the FEC’s senior campaign finance and reviewing analyst, Bradley Matheson, sent a letter to Hunter’s treasurer threatening “an audit or enforcement action” if he did not respond to its query about the personal expenses. “Requests for extensions of time in which to respond will not be considered,” the FEC warned.
One experienced campaign-finance attorney told The Daily Beast that despite the assertion from Hunter’s staff that all of this was just a “routine” mix-up, it was actually an extraordinary screwup.
“I've never seen a ‘mistake’ like this in 26 years of doing FEC work,” the attorney said. “It's a good example of why you shouldn’t be using campaign funds to make donations to organizations that provide services to a family member. It is possible that this was a mistake by the school—but it’s certainly not a routine one.”
“There’s nothing nefarious there,” Kasper told The Daily Beast, and it seemed like he really meant it.