WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Sen. Larry Craig, who took a “wide stance” in an airport bathroom, must shell out penalties and restitution for using campaign funds to pay legal fees in a criminal case, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Craig, a former senator from Idaho, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in 2007 after nudging the foot of an undercover police officer under a bathroom stall at a Minnesota airport, a move the officer interpreted as a solicitation of sex.
Though Craig claimed the nudge was merely a result of his “wide stance,” he was arrested and charged. Once the charges and his guilty plea made national news, Craig sought to withdraw his guilty plea.
He paid the law firms Kelly & Jacobson and Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan a total of $216,984 from his campaign fund for legal services related to withdrawal of his guilty plea, according to court records.
The Senate Ethics Committee in 2008 issued a public letter of admonition stating that Craig may have used campaign funds for personal purposes.
The Federal Elections Commission sued the former senator in 2012, claiming Craig and his campaign committee violated federal law because money spent on withdrawing his guilty plea was “not ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with his duties as a Senator.”
In October 2014, a federal judge ordered the former Idaho senator to pay $242,535 to the Department of the Treasury – $197,535 of it for inappropriately spending his campaign funds, plus a $45,000 penalty.
The D.C. Circuit affirmed the ruling last Friday, finding the matter a straightforward application of the law.
“The allegations that gave rise to his guilty plea were the misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct and interference with privacy that the State of Minnesota filed against him. Because those allegations did not concern the senator’s campaign activities or official duties, the legal fees he expended trying to withdraw his plea constituted ‘personal use,'” Judge Merrick Garland said, writing for a three judge panel.
Craig’s defense expenses would have existed regardless of his senatorial duties or reelection campaign efforts, and parties to the case do not dispute that Craig’s criminal conduct was unrelated to his official position.
But the former senator argued that his official status greatly increased his legal costs, because “no reasonable person” would have spent nearly $200,000 to attack a misdemeanor plea if they were not an office-holder or candidate.
Craig said he should be allowed to pay the difference between what he paid and the amount he would have spent were he not a senator.
However, the D.C. Circuit disagreed in its March 4 ruling.
“There is no support for [Craig’s argument] in any FEC advisory opinion. Nor is it workable. We struggle to imagine how the commission or a court could calculate the ‘delta’ between what a particular member of Congress spent on a given legal expense and what a ‘reasonable’ non-member would have found sufficient,” Garland wrote.
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