Rep. Duncan Hunter leaves a federal court hearing. / Image via KPBS

Let’s begin by stating the obvious. This was not a great year for Duncan Hunter.

While a criminal investigation intensified at the start of 2018, the congressman’s freewheeling lifestyle came under scrutiny. His drinking crew in Washington was dubbed the “bros caucus” by former staffers. In August, a federal grand jury indicted him on a series of conspiracy and campaign finance charges — possible violations that were first brought to light by the Union-Tribune. Hunter responded by blaming his wife on national television.

As the trial looms, the Alpine Republican and ex-Marine is on the verge of professional and personal ruin.

Hunter is being recognized here because of the discussions his campaign tactics and the accusations against him provoked: Can a politician today say shamelessly untrue things and blame serious charges on a deep state conspiracy and still hold office?

So far, the answer appears to be yes.

Hunter, who was among the first members of congress to endorse Donald Trump in 2016, pivoted from the indictment this fall by accusing his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, a Christian, of being a would-be Islamic terrorist seeking to “infiltrate” Congress. Hunter was flanked in that line of attack by defense lobbyists who had business before his committee.

Federal prosecutors allege that the Hunters illegally used more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. On the surface, flying a bunny in an airplane or buying Disneyland souvenirs with donor money seem like victimless crimes.

If the charges are true, though, Hunter crossed the line that’s intended to keep our governments honest. We expect that our leaders aren’t using the office to become personally enriched.

This is part of our 2018 Voice of the Year list, profiling the people who kick-started San Diego’s biggest civic discussions over the past year.

Jesse Marx is a former Voice of San Diego associate editor.

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