President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned the former congressman who had chaired the Maritime Transportation Subcommittee before being indicted for misusing campaign funds.
Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, had been slated to begin an 11-month prison sentence in January.
American Shipper reported in August 2018 that Hunter, then chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, had been accused, with his wife, of misusing more than $250,000 in campaign funds.
Hunter was first elected in 2013 to the 50th Congressional District seat once held by his father. He resigned in January of this year, one month after pleading guilty to one count of misusing campaign funds amounting to $150,000 for personal expenses.
He and his wife, Margaret Hunter, originally were charged with 60 criminal counts of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States, wire fraud, falsification of records and prohibited use of campaign contributions.
According to a television news station in San Diego, which is in Hunter’s former district, Margaret Hunter reached a plea deal in which she agreed to testify against her husband. She reportedly began eight months of home confinement in August.
The Department of Justice said in August 2018 that the 48-page indictment detailed “scores of instances beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016 in which the Hunters illegally used campaign money to pay for personal expenses that they could not otherwise afford.”
“The purchases included family vacations to Italy, Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, and Boise, Idaho; school tuition; dental work; theater tickets; and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives. The Hunters also spent tens of thousands of dollars on smaller purchases, including fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities and expensive meals.”
Prosecutors also reportedly alleged the Hunters even used the funds for airline tickets for their pet rabbit.
Until his indictment, Hunter had received $6,369,487 in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website opensecrets.com. It said $256,637 came from the “sea transport” industry.
Contributors in the 2016 and 2018 election cycles included firms such as Saltchuk (the parent of TOTE, Tropical Shipping and Foss), Carnival, Crowley, American Shipping and Logistics Group, Masters, Mates and Pilots; trade organizations such as American Waterways Operators and Cruise Lines International Association; and unions such as American Maritime Officers, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and Seafarers International.
Hunter, a former Marine, was a vocal supporter of the Jones Act. Also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, it requires that all goods shipped between American ports travel on U.S.-flagged ships with American crews.
During a January 2018 Capitol Hill hearing on the state of the U.S.-flag maritime industry, Hunter called opposition to the Jones Act “stupid.”
“The absurdities of some of those in this Congress and in government to think that you want Korean or Chinese or name your country-made ships, and taking the entire American workforce of making ships and driving them, and getting something from point A to point B in America, it’s stupid, it’s absurd, and I hope that we just keep educating and educating, ’cause that’s what it’s going to take so that people understand what this is and how this is one of the cornerstones of our country’s entire national security apparatus,” Hunter said. “It is the Jones Act, and it is what allows us to project power and be the greatest country in the world.”
Hunter was kicked off the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in September 2018.
Hunter’s pardon was one of 20 pardons and sentence commutations Trump delivered Tuesday. A fellow former Republican congressman, New York’s Chris Collins, who had been convicted of securities fraud, also was pardoned.
A statement from the White House said Hunter’s pardon was issued “at the request of many members of Congress.”