Former Sen. Larry Craig will get a chance this fall to argue that he shouldn’t have to repay campaign funds he used in connection to his 2007 arrest in a Minnesota airport bathroom sex sting.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit set oral arguments for Oct. 7 in the Idaho Republican’s appeal. Craig is challenging a lower court order from nearly a year ago that he pay $242,533 to the Treasury Department – $197,533 from the Craig Committee and a $45,000 penalty – for using campaign money for legal representation on a disorderly conduct charge.
The Federal Election Commission, which filed the lawsuit against Craig in 2012, is not backing down at the appeals court. Government attorneys plan to argue that Craig’s appeal isn’t just about money, but threatens a decades-old restriction on illegally converting campaign money for personal use.
“The main contention Craig now makes regarding his liability – that his spending was legal because his arrest had consequences for his career that motivated him to try to withdraw his guilty plea – simply ignores consistent guidance from the FEC regarding the personal-use prohibition,” the government brief states.
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“Permitting campaign funds to be spent on any legal proceeding that an officeholder subjectively believes will affect his career would completely undermine (Federal Election Campaign Act)’s personal-use restriction,” the brief states.
Craig has argued in court filings that such a disgorgement or repayment is contrary to FEC policy and precedent, “and improperly punitive.” Any “personal use” violations should result in surrendering improperly used funds back to the campaign committee, Craig’s attorneys state in court filings.
The FEC’s application of the personal use standard “is far from clear and consistent,” Craig’s attorneys state in filings. “This is not an entirely unexpected result for a regulation which instructs a changing, partisan roster of evenly divided commissioners to make ‘irrespective' determinations on a ‘case-by-case basis’ where personal use concerns arise.”
In September, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in favor of disgorgement and found that the Craig Committee functioned as “little more than an alter-ego for Senator Craig himself.”
Craig filed an appeal in March. “Senator Craig has endured severe professional and personal consequences,” that brief states.
Craig initially pleaded guilty in August 2007 to a misdemeanor related to a charge he solicited sex from a male undercover police officer in the men’s restroom. Once the arrest became the subject of national media attention, Craig filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea but it was denied.