FEC’s Case Against Ex-Sen. Larry Craig Proceeds

     (CN) – Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig failed to persuade a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing him of illegally using campaign funds to pay his legal expenses after he was arrested in an airport rest room in Minnesota.
     U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., said the funds the former senator used to try to withdraw his guilty plea “cannot be characterized as ordinary and necessary expenses in connection with Senator Craig’s duties as an office holder.”
     Craig was arrested in a rest room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on June 11, 2007 after nudging the foot of an undercover officer in the next stall. The foot tap indicated a “signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct,” according to the police report.
     Craig pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. When the arrest and its details made national news, Craig tried, unsuccessfully, to withdraw his plea.
     He retired from the Senate in January 2009.
     Last June the Federal Election Commission sued Craig, his campaign and its treasurer, Kaye O’Riordan, claiming they converted more than $200,000 for “legal expenses he incurred in connection with his arrest, guilty plea, and subsequent efforts to withdraw his guilty plea in Minnesota.”
     This violated the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the FEC argued.
     The defendants asked Judge Jackson to dismiss the lawsuit on two grounds: First, they claimed the use of campaign funds to pay Craig’s legal expenses was not illegal. Second, they asserted immunity from agency enforcement because they had relied on FEC opinions approving the use of campaign funds in similar situations.
     Jackson rejected both arguments, starting with the claim that Craig’s legal expenses were connected to his official duties as a member of Congress because he was traveling for work.
     “Neither the charge nor the underlying conduct had anything to do with his performance of his official duties, so the legal expenses they generated were not incurred in connection with those duties,” she wrote.
     “Moreover, the expenses were neither incurred at the time of the travel nor necessitated by the travel – they were incurred two months after the trip, after the Senator had second thoughts about his conviction, moved to withdraw his guilty plea, and appealed the denial of that motion. So the link is even more attenuated.”
     Jackson said the use of campaign money to cover Craig’s legal fees “falls squarely within the statutory definition of a personal use” barred by law.
     The judge also rejected the defendants’ immunity claim, saying the FEC opinions they relied on “are entirely distinguishable from the case presented here.”
     The defendants’ argument “misstates the holding of those opinions, minimizes the key distinctions between those cases and the one before the court, and disregards clear admonitory language in the very opinion that defendants insist bears most directly on this case.”
     Craig had argued that his case was “indistinguishable” from that of former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, who was investigated for a rafting trip he took with two former pages in the mid-1990s.
     The FEC said Kolbe could use campaign funds to pay for the cost of responding to two inquiries about the trip, but not for “allegations … that do not concern the candidate’s campaign activities or duties as a federal officeholder.”
     “So the Kolbe opinion is distinguishable,” Jackson wrote, “and it stands for the proposition that one must analyze the nature and subject matter of the inquiry giving rise to the expenses.”
     She allowed the FEC’s case to move forward.

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