(CN) – Former Sen. Larry Craig, who took a “wide stance” in an airport bathroom, must repay $242,500 in penalties and restitution for using campaign funds to his pay legal fees in the case, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., 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.
Craig 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 the opinion in FEC v. Craig for U.S. Senate et al.
The Senate Ethics Committee in 2008 issued a Public Letter of Admonition stating that Craig may have used campaign funds for personal purposes.
After receiving a complaint that Craig had spent more than $213,000 in campaign money on his personal legal battle, the FEC investigated.
“The FEC investigated the complaint and attempts to resolve the matter short of litigation were unsuccessful,” the opinion states.
The FEC sued in 2012, claiming Craig and his campaign committee had 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.”
The FEC sought disgorgement of the $216,984 spent on the attempted plea withdrawal plus a $70,000 penalty each for Craig and his campaign committee.
Craig admitted to spending the $216,984, but claimed there still was a dispute of material fact because he relied in “good faith” on a prior FEC Advisory Opinion and disclosed his spending immediately.
The court has already determined, however, that the Advisory Opinion does not apply in Craig’s case and does not change the fact that he violated federal law.
Craig also argued there is a dispute of material fact because the FEC does not name a specific amount of improperly spent campaign funds. But the court found that a specific dollar amount is not needed because the fact remains that improper spending occurred.
The court found in favor of the FEC, but differed in its accounting of what should be disgorged and in its levying of penalties.
As a result of its own line-by-line analysis of Craig’s spending of campaign funds on legal services for his plea withdrawal, the court found that $197,535 was improperly spent. It excluded, the opinion states, certain services “related to media or ethics concerns,” which are permissible uses for campaign funds.
The court eliminated the $70,000 penalty against Craig for U.S. Senate, the campaign committee, because Craig is the only remaining member and does not intend to run for the U.S. Senate again, the opinion states.
It reduced Craig’s penalty to $45,000 in light of past penalties in similar cases, the amount of funds diverted in this case and the fact that good or bad faith was not conclusively established. This amounts to 20 to 25 percent of the amount diverted.
The court will issue declaratory judgment that defendants violated federal law by using campaign funds for personal use, the opinion states.
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