Poll: Hunter leads in re-election fight despite federal charges

SAN DIEGO -- Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, who faces federal charges of misusing campaign funds, remains ahead in his reelection bid, with some voters planning to support him even though they believe him to be guilty, according to a new poll.

The poll released Tuesday reported that 49% of potential voters in his inland San Diego County district said they would vote for the indicted Alpine congressman if the election were held today. By contrast, 41% of those surveyed by the Monmouth University Polling Institute said they would support Hunter’s opponent, 29-year-old Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar. Ten percent were undecided.

Hunter’s lead remains despite the fact that just under 4 in 10 voters believe the five-term incumbent is definitely or probably guilty. Among the district’s voters who currently support Hunter, 21% lean toward thinking he is guilty and 41% say he’s not guilty, according to the survey. Nearly a quarter of potential voters said they were unaware that Hunter had been indicted.

“One in 10 voters in this district think Hunter is probably guilty of campaign fraud, but they are going to vote for him anyway,” said Patrick Murray, director of the nonpartisan Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Read Christine Mai-Due's full report on San Diego Union-Tribune.

Federal charges

Hunter and his wife, Margaret, routinely -- and illegally -- used campaign funds to pay personal bills big and small, from luxury vacations to kids' school lunches and delinquent family dentistry bills, according to a stinging 47-page indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The charges of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations and conspiracy were the culmination of a Department of Justice investigation that has stretched for more than a year, during which the Republican congressman from California has maintained his innocence.

The detailed indictment portrays the Hunters as living well beyond their means and said they "knowingly conspired with each other" to convert campaign funds to personal use.

Federal prosecutors contend that the Hunters repeatedly misrepresented what their expenses were for -- in one instance buying personal clothing at a golf course so that the purchase "could be falsely reported to the treasurer as 'balls for the wounded warriors,'" the indictment says.

The indictment also charges that Duncan Hunter facilitated the "theft of campaign funds" by directing his treasurer to obtain a campaign credit card for his wife at a time when she had no formal role.

The congressman then insisted that his wife be named as his paid campaign manager -- over the objections of his treasurer -- because, according to the document, he said the family needed "the extra money that would come from her salary."

Prosecutors said Hunter also allowed the alleged theft to take place by "ignoring his campaign staff's multiple warnings about Margaret Hunter's improper use of campaign funds." He lashed out at aides, the indictment says, by accusing them of disloyalty and "trying to create some kind of paper trail on me."

The indictment makes it clear that the Hunters were in dire financial straits and could not have supported their lifestyle without the use of those campaign funds.

The Hunters overdrew their personal bank accounts more 1,100 times in a seven-year period, according to the indictment from the US Attorney's Office in San Diego, resulting in $37,761 in "overdraft" and "insufficient funds" bank fees.

"By virtue of these delinquencies -- as well as notifications of outstanding debts and overdue payments from their children's school, their family dentist, and other creditors -- the Hunters knew that many of their desired purchases could only be made by using campaign funds," the indictment says.