Larry Craig

Report: Craig stopped using campaign funds for legal fees

WASHINGTON - Sen. Larry Craig has complied with the Senate Ethics Committee's insistence that he stop using campaign money for his legal defense without permission, according to the Idaho Republican's latest campaign disclosure report.

Craig reported the use of campaign cash in January and February to pay for some expensive Washington, D.C., lawyers. But all three payments were made before the Feb. 13 ethics ruling.

Craig has spent $370,037 on lawyers from his campaign account since an undercover officer arrested him last June in a sex sting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct but did not hire a lawyer or disclose to anyone that he had been arrested or pleaded guilty. After news of the arrest became public in August, Craig hired the lawyers to overturn the plea.

The report shows that in the first three months of this year, $24,453 went to Stan Brand, the lawyer who handled the Ethics Committee matter for Craig. Craig's campaign paid two installments adding up to $148,164 to the law firm fighting his guilty plea, home to his main attorney, Billy Martin.

All three payments were before the Feb. 13 ethics ruling. The six senators on the Ethics Committee argued that "some portion" of Craig's legal expenses were personal expenses and had nothing to do with his official duties.

Generally, federal election law allows members of Congress to use their campaign accounts to pay legal bills, as long as their legal troubles are related to their roles as officeholders.

But in the Senate, individual senators must ask permission of the Ethics Committee first, which Craig did not do.

Judy Smith, who handles public relations for Craig and speaks on behalf of his attorney, would not say whether future legal payments would come out of the campaign coffers - or Craig's own pocket.

Craig was arrested by an officer investigating complaints about public sex acts in men's rooms. The officer said Craig signaled interest in sex by running his hand under an adjoining restroom stall and tapping his toes. A district judge in Minnesota turned down Craig's first effort to undo his guilty plea. Craig then took the matter to the state's appellate court, which could have a hearing this fall.

Now he has just $108,753 in his campaign account. Craig is not seeking re-election this year.

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104