Rep. Duncan Hunter pleads guilty, resigns, goes to prison, collects lifetime pension
In this July 1, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter leaves federal court after a motions hearing in San Diego. The California Republican pleaded guilty on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. | Denis Poroy / AP

One of these centuries soon—but really, soon—Congress has got to come to grips with the problem of its errant members. So far, for the crimes you commit, you can be ordered to stop voting on bills, you can be deprived of all committee assignments, and of course you won’t be held accountable for any number of absences from Congressional sessions, you can be expelled, you can be sent to the clink, you can resign. But hey, you can collect your pension for the rest of your life!

Some naughty curmudgeon might try to insinuate that Holy Grail of a lifetime pension and healthcare could even be why some folks run for Congress in the first place. I mean, look at some of these guys in Congress now, and I don’t mean to be partisan about it, but uh, what are these minority GOP members of the House doing these days anyway? Just voting against any bills the Democrats put forward irrespective of their merits and running a protection racket for the impeached president?

Don’t get me started on the GOP Senators! They are really just cooling their heels, harkening to the siren call of their master, Mitch McConnell, waiting around for the next American Bar Association “rated unqualified” lifetime judicial appointment to roll off the Federalist Society assembly line for their unanimous approval, packing our courts with flat-Earther troglodytes for the next, who knows, 30, 40, 50 years. Jeez, they really pick ’em young these days, don’t they?

But I digress. Let’s talk about Duncan Hunter the Younger from California’s 50th C.D. in ruby-red eastern and northern San Diego County (and a patch of Riverside County). He’s sat in Congress since Jan. 3, 2009, succeeding his daddy, Duncan L. Hunter, who served from 1981 to 2009. Our boy Hunter, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005, mostly distinguished himself in Congress as a military booster, a purported defender of veterans, and a one-man amen corner to Pres. Trump in his campaign to rid the armed services of transgender members.

Which didn’t dissuade him, when he started racking up an egregious criminal record (it got up to 60 counts) using $250,000 in campaign funds for his items ranging from personal family and extramarital expenses to purchasing sport clothing and writing it off as a donation to help “wounded warriors.”

Hunter’s wife, Margaret, who served as his campaign finance manager, admitted her own guilt in the misuse of funds, and testified against her husband. The five different mistresses Hunter “entertained” with campaign funds in hotels and resorts around the country no doubt were persuasive factors in her stance in the case.

On Dec. 3, Hunter pleaded guilty to only one count, figuring he’d be spending somewhere up to five years in custody. But, there being no House rule requiring that members be expelled if convicted even of job-related crimes, he continued to collect his $174,000-a-year Congressional pay, despite being distracted from his professional duties by the circumstances he had brought upon himself, and delayed his resignation until Jan. 13.

His sentencing will take place on March 17, and Margaret will be sentenced in April. “My only hope,” Hunter told San Diego KUSI-TV, “is that the judge does not sentence my wife to jail. I think my kids need a mom in the home.”

If Hunter had resigned from Congress on Dec. 3, a special election to replace him for the remainder of his term would have been mandated so that the 50th C.D. could enjoy representation throughout the year 2020. But by postponing his resignation so long, he not only padded his eventual lifetime taxpayer-funded retirement package—keep in mind he’s only 43 now—but made it impossible to squeeze an additional Congressional primary election onto the California presidential primary ballot March 3. Therefore, voters will be able to vote for his replacement only in a primary election yet to be scheduled, and then on Nov. 3, 2020.

Hunter would not be eligible to start receiving his pension right away, however. He’ll have to wait until at least the age of 62. His retirement package would be somewhere north of an annual $32K, perhaps with cost-of-living adjustments by that time. According to Adam Andrzejewski of OpenTheBooks.com, “the rules are so lax, no member has ever been stripped of their congressional pension”—even as a former congressmember sits in prison.

Along with former Rep. Chris Collins of New York, Hunter was among the first GOP members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump in 2016. On Oct. 1, Collins resigned on charges of insider trading, and actually, because of the nature of his charge, may not be eligible for a pension, but maybe now both of them could be pardoned by the president. Among the 59 other charges against Hunter that the prosecutors dropped, some, like felony wire fraud, would have canceled Hunter’s pension according to the terms of the 2012 updated Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK).

Hunter was re-elected by a slim margin of 1.7 points in 2018, the year seven (count ’em) GOP Congressional seats in California swung to Democratic Blue Wave challengers, representing exactly one-half of the state’s GOP bench. He was re-elected by the sagacious voters of San Diego County despite having been indicted that August on 60 counts of misuse of funds, and despite failing to secure the endorsement of the county’s Republican Party. GOP party registration in the district runs about 3 to 2 over Democrats, and another 2 parts independent.

His Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a young U.S.-born Latino-Palestinian staffer with the Obama administration, nearly took Hunter’s seat in the Blue Wave. Some see Hunter’s conscious ploy to leave the district unrepresented for a year as giving other Republicans the time and opportunity to amass funds and mount a winning campaign against the still actively running Campa-Najjar.

As of a recent poll in the district, Campa-Najjar tops the list of contenders at 26%, with Republicans Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego City Councilman, former Congressman Darrell Issa, and State Sen. Brian Jones trailing, but together outpolling the Democrat. Under California law, the two top vote-getters in the primary proceed to the election. Democrats fear that with a flood of money into GOP campaigns, the top two could both be Republicans, sidelining the Democrat. Much will depend on independent and undecided voters.

According to The Hill, “Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is running for Hunter’s old seat, and Nate McMurray, a candidate in Collins’s district, teamed up Wednesday [Jan. 15] to pledge support for ethics legislation in the House that would require forfeiture of congressional pensions for lawmakers who are found guilty of a felony and mandate repayment of personal loans to campaigns within two years of their election.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski. He received the Better Lemons "Up Late" Critic Award for 2019, awarded to the most prolific critic. His latest project is translating the fiction of Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese. The first book, Five Days, Five Nights, is available from International Publishers NY.

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