By Andy Cohen
Hunter and his bros
Duncan Hunter’s (R-50) days in Congress might not be numbered, but they should be. For well over a year now, Hunter and his campaign have been the subject of federal investigations into campaign finance fraud, with Hunter having had to pay back more than $60,000 in personal expenses that were inappropriately paid for with campaign funds. The offices of his campaign treasurer were raided by the FBI in February 2017, as reported by Politico Magazine, to go along with the extensive investigations here at home.
Things for Hunter appear to be even worse than has been previously reported. A lot worse. Hunter has already copped to using campaign funds for vacations to Italy and Arizona; medical expenses; private school tuition and lunches for his children; and $600 in air travel expenses for his family’s pet bunny, among other expenses. But as Politico reported last month, federal investigators are looking into hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash expenditures by Hunter.
There are also allegations of heavy drinking while in Washington, and at least one — and possibly more — extramarital affairs.
According to the lengthy Politico story, former staffers of Hunter’s have raised concerns over Hunter and a group of his Republican colleagues — who aides have dubbed “the bros caucus” — and their regular excursions to the Capitol Hill Club, a known Republican hangout, sometimes during daytime hours.
Aides also recounted instances to the magazine of Congressional Committee meetings, where Hunter appeared to be intoxicated, with some present taking note of his “bloodshot eyes and speech and questioned whether Hunter was under the influence.” Hunter himself has denied having ever attended an official Congressional meeting while inebriated.
Federal prosecutors have interviewed a female lobbyist that Hunter is suspected to have had an affair with. Aides have also taken issue with a young woman who initially worked in Hunter’s office as an intern, but whom Hunter then hired on full time. The woman, according to staffers, often failed to show up to work, was hostile to co-workers, and tended to dress unprofessionally. Hunter aides told Politico that the woman would often text Hunter, occasionally join him at the Capitol Hill Club, and showed up uninvited to campaign events, both in Washington and San Diego.
As for his campaign finance problems, Hunter has placed the blame almost entirely on his wife and former campaign manager, Margaret Hunter. The couple has had to sell their house in order to pay their debts, and Hunter’s family has moved in with his parents while he’s in Washington.
“My wife, she ran my dad’s [former Congressman Duncan Hunter, Sr.] FEC reports and his campaign prior to us getting married,” Hunter told Politico, “so I assumed — not assumed, she knew the rules. She knows the FEC rules … as much as anybody knows that stuff.”
In the last quarter of 2017, Hunter compiled $179,000 in legal fees, while raising only $51,000 in campaign funds (it is legal to use campaign funds to pay for legal fees).
Not everyone, however, believes the junior Hunter is in big trouble. Hunter Sr. told the magazine that his son is “a highly moral person of great character,” and that “he is going to be president someday.” Well, if Donald Trump can do it …
The problem with Peters
Last month I chronicled the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s campaign against Scott Peters (D-52) and his bipartisan efforts to clean up what he and some of his colleagues view as a flawed 340B drug pricing program. The program is intended to be used by hospitals and clinics to provide vital medications to poor and uninsured patients at often highly discounted prices. But many health care providers are using the program to increase their profits by applying the discounted prices to fully insured patients and billing insurance companies for reimbursement of the full price of the medicine.
When hospitals manipulate the program in this manner, it means there are fewer funds available for rural or underprivileged patients who could truly benefit from the program.
However, Andrea Fetchko, a spokesperson from JPA Health Communications, a PR firm specializing in representing health care providers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical professional associations, among others — presumably on behalf of a client, who went unidentified despite the exchange of several emails — continues to take umbrage with the proposed changes of Peters’ co-sponsored bill.
Among their main concerns are actions taken by the Trump administration.
“HHS [Health and Human Services] finalized a rule to cut Medicare Part B reimbursements to hospitals that participate in the 340B program,” Fetchko wrote. “Essentially, this is allowing Medicare Part B to capture the 340B savings, rather than letting the hospitals receive the savings.”
While this is true, these actions were taken at the executive branch level and have nothing to do with the bill Peters co-sponsored with Larry Buchson (R-Ind) and others.
“We absolutely oppose cuts to the 340B program,” wrote Anais Borja, a legislative assistant to Peters, in an email.
“Reps. Buschon and Peters introduced a bill that would put a moratorium on new hospitals entering the 340B program for at least two years. The legislation would also require onerous transparency and reporting requirements for hospitals,” continued Fetchko.
Again, it is true that the bill, entitled the “340B Pause Act,” calls for a halt on admitting new hospitals into the program for a period of two years. But entities currently enrolled in the program would continue on as normal and would see no changes until reforms are introduced.
The point of the moratorium is to a) preserve the program as is for those already in it; and b) to give legislators time to refine the program and ensure the funds are going to those who need it most, not to bolster profits.
A request for clarification of what was meant by “onerous transparency and reporting requirements” has thus far gone unanswered.
Activists have been protesting Peters’ support of the legislation. Those protests are misguided, as the proposed bill does not shut down 340B as they’ve been led to believe it does.
— Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.