When we talk about campaign finance, we often only consider how funds are raised—how massive, special interest-oriented corporations bankroll our public servants and expect legislative reimbursement, for example. Rarer is the case in which we discuss what exactly politicians on the campaign trail are doing with these funds; this is a direct result of the murky, unclear and broken campaign finance laws currently in place.
New charges allege that Republican congressman Duncan Hunter used nearly $250,000 in campaign funds to have extramarital affairs. The news comes from The Independent, who are quick to note that Hunter lists “preserving family values” as a primary goal on his official website.
Hunter is currently facing roughly 60 criminal charges, with other allegations including conspiracy and wire fraud. He views the allegations—which have been ongoing since his indictment last November—as “a personal smear campaign,” according to the Washington Post. Prosecutors view the evidence that Hunter was having extramarital affairs as a necessary means to show Hunter’s “intent to break the law and to establish his motive to embezzle from his campaign,” per the official government filings.
The affairs are with several congressional staffers and lobbyists, which is, to put it bluntly, an even worse look for Hunter. Not only is he misusing campaign funds, he’s also compromising himself under ethical lines, both in the context of workplace power dynamics and quid pro quo political sensibilities. Hunter will likely utilize these roles in his defense, with his prosecutors noting in the filings breaking down how he’ll do so:
Precisely because each of the women worked as lobbyists or congressional staffers, Hunter may suggest that he was justified in spending campaign funds on all of his “meetings” with these individuals. Evidence of the intimate, entirely personal quality of Hunter’s specific encounters with these women is essential to demonstrate that his spending to facilitate those encounters was improper.
How the classic “going on a work trip” excuse used in so many flailing marriages will work in this context remains unclear. Regardless, the filing raises essential questions about campaign finance laws. Why there isn’t greater clarity in how funding is being used is an obvious one, but where the funding is coming from remains as vital as ever, too.