Larry Craig

Craig may use campaign funds to cover legal battle

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Larry Craig has hired some of the most expensive lawyers and communication experts in Washington. To pay the bills, the Idaho senator may establish a legal-defense fund.

So far, Craig hasn't set up any such fund to pay for lawyers to unravel his guilty plea or respond to a threatened Senate ethics investigation, spokesman Dan Whiting said Thursday.

It's possible Craig will use campaign contributions to pay the bills. Federal Elections Commission rules allow legislators to use campaign contributions if the legal bills relate to their jobs, FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said. He cautioned that the FEC has disallowed the use of campaign cash for officeholders whose problems would have cropped up even if they weren't in public office.

Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after an undercover police officer accused him of soliciting the officer for sex June 11 in a men's room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. After the arrest and plea became public last week, Senate leaders said they would launch an ethics investigation. Craig said he would resign but wants his name cleared.

Stan Brand, the Washington, D.C. lawyer for Craig on the ethics complaint, said most of his lawmaker clients use their campaign accounts, and Craig should be no different.

"It arises from him being a candidate and from his being an officeholder," Brand said. "I've represented scores of elected officials. Many have been career public servants, and the only means they have to defend themselves is campaign funds."

Craig has a sizable campaign account to tap. As of June 30, he had about $549,125, plus $29,907 in his separate political action committee, Alliance for the West. He has used the PAC to help other candidates.

It was unclear Thursday whether the circumstances surrounding Craig's arrest and guilty plea had spurred anyone to ask Craig to return their contributions — or whether he'd taken in any new donations to help pay legal bills. Craig's campaign manager, Ken Burgess, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Good legal advice is expensive, especially for high-profile lawmakers. For example, although former Florida Rep. Mark Foley resigned form his seat in disgrace last year, he continued to spend campaign funds on legal bills connected to the criminal investigation into the inappropriate e-mails he sent to underage pages. Friends of Mark Foley, his campaign committee, reported spending $277,357 in Foley's defense this spring.