Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) does not deny that his campaign funds were used to fly a pet rabbit multiple times.
In fact, his office said Wednesday that aside from immediately reimbursing his campaign coffers for the bunny's $600 in travel expenses, Hunter also uses the oversight to prove a point about the House Office of Congressional Ethics.
The independent ethics office — which nearly was gutted by House Republicans earlier this week — reviewed Hunter's expenses last year at the request of a liberal watchdog group, a spokesperson for Hunter told TheBlaze. While that report will not be released until later this month, it will include questionable campaign expenditures such as the rabbit's airfare and a jewelry purchase.
But Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said OCE report will include findings that are "misrepresented" or "overly exaggerated" — using the rabbit as an example.
Of the rabbit, Kasper explained:
OCE has in their report $600 in campaign expenditures for in-cabin rabbit transport fees. Since travel is often done on miles — which is entirely permissible — the credit card connected to the account was charged several times even when his children were flying. This was nothing more than an oversight.
In fact, it’s such an obvious example of a mistake being made but OCE wants to view it through a lens of possible intent. The same goes for many other expenditures. Many of Rep. Hunter’s repayments had to do with mistakes under specific circumstances. And in other cases there were bonafide campaign activities connected to expenditures that OCE was not aware of and didn’t account for. And Hunter had reimbursed in full the cost of the pet.
Another questionable expense that Kasper noted might raise eyebrows was the purchase of jewelry. That purchase, too, was a "bonafide campaign expense" as it was an item donated to wounded veterans at a charity tournament the congressman attended, Kasper said.
Hunter has already reimbursed his campaign committee approximately $62,000 for expenses that were either personal in nature or not properly documented. Kasper said the reimbursement included interest.
"He wanted to do the absolute right thing, be as transparent as possible," Kasper said. "That number was Hunter undertaking an absolute abundance of caution."
But despite doing so, Kasper argued that the OCE has attempted to make Hunter's finances a "broader issue" than necessary.
"OCE has no mechanism in place to account for those things," such as simple oversights, Kasper said.
House Republicans drew ire on the very first day of the GOP-led Congress — even from President-elect Donald Trump — after a secret ballot roll call Monday night led to a vote to dismantle the OCE.
By the next morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) were working overtime to do damage control.
"I don't think many members are disputing the role of OCE, but they're disputing the OCE process and the concerns are strong enough that it nearly prompted a significant structural change," Kasper said Wednesday, echoing cries from lawmakers who have accused the OCE of bias.