(Courtesy of Daniel Casara for Congress)
Another Republican has stepped up to challenge Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who is under investigation by the FBI over alleged misuse of campaign funds.
Daniel Casara, a 43-year-old retired Army sergeant and motivational speaker, announced Tuesday that he’s running against Hunter, a six-term Republican who represents inland San Diego County and a sliver of Riverside County.
"Washington is failing us," Casara said in a statement announcing his run, adding that if elected, he would push for better services for veterans and pursue tax reform that "benefits every American."
Casara received a Purple Heart medal after surviving an attack on his tank in Iraq that killed two other soldiers. He has undergone numerous surgeries and now makes a living as a motivational speaker, according to his campaign.
Earlier this year, Casara participated in a joint interview with George W. Bush after being featured in a book of portraits the former president painted of wounded veterans. A Chicago native, Casara currently lives in San Diego, outside of Hunter’s 50th Congressional District.
Hunter was recently added to the Democrats’ list of targeted Republican incumbents for 2018. In addition to Casara, he faces Republican Andrew Zelt and Democrats Patrick Malloy, Josh Butner, Glenn Jensen, Pierre Beauregard, Gloria Chadwick and Ammar Campa-Najjar.
Campa-Najjar, a media consultant, raised more money than Hunter in the latest quarter ending June 30, while Hunter spent nearly all of the $155,624 he raised that period on legal fees and services. His campaign has another $114,412 in unpaid legal fees.
The House Ethics Committee disclosed in March that Hunter was under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice and said Hunter may have used campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. His campaign expenses included oral surgery, jewelry, garage door repairs and $600 in airline fees to transport his family’s pet rabbit.
(Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
Under investigation by the FBI for possibly misusing campaign funds, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) has spent $336,664 with seven law firms this year.
Hunter’s most recent campaign finance report shows $152,859 in spending and $114,412 in debt to seven law firms in the San Diego and Washington areas in the months since the House Ethics Committee disclosed the FBI’s investigation in late March to explain why it was not pursuing its own probe of the San Diego-area congressman.
The fifth-term Republican raised just $155,625 in the same time frame, nearly the same amount he paid out in legal fees, according to his campaign finance report.
Hunter can use campaign funds to pay for legal defense of himself, family or staff as long as the alleged crimes are related to the campaign or his job as an elected official.
The biggest fees have gone to some of the Washington firms best known for campaign finance and election law.
That includes $46,976 this quarter to Berke Farah LLP of Washington, which has represented Hunter since 2016.
He also paid $55,533 to Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC of Warrenton, Va., and still owes the firm $57,056.
Back in San Diego, he hired Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek, which has a variety of specialties. He paid the firm $28,787 this quarter and owes it another $33,292.
Hunter also spent $69,393 on attorney’s fees in the first three months of the year, according to his reports.
Federal election officials and the San Diego Union-Tribune repeatedly raised questions over the last year and a half about unusual spending by Hunter’s campaign, including flying the family rabbit on a plane and payments to nail salons, his children’s private school and a Phoenix resort, among others.
The House Ethics Committee released a report that stated Hunter “may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, healthcare, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries and other goods, services, and expenses.”
Hunter has already reimbursed his campaign some $62,000 in payments for things including oral surgery, a family trip to Italy and Disneyland gift shop purchases.
Hunter has said he’s reviewing all of his campaign’s spending, and his attorneys have said he is cooperating with the FBI investigation.
“Congressman Hunter intends to cooperate fully with the government on this investigation, and maintains that to the extent any mistakes were made they were strictly inadvertent and unintentional,” Hunter’s attorneys, Elliot S. Berke and Gregory A. Vega, said in a statement in March.
Hunter’s office did not respond to a request for additional information Tuesday.
(Jordan Strauss / Invision) (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)