Larry Craig

Craig collects $4,645 for legal defense

WASHINGTON - Sen. Larry Craig has raised just $4,645 since setting up a legal expense fund this spring to help pay the bills from his efforts to overturn his guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Craig, who was arrested during a 2007 sex sting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, continues to fight his guilty plea in Minnesota's higher courts.

In February, the Senate Ethics Committee chastised Craig with a letter of public admonishment, saying his arrest constituted "improper conduct" reflecting poorly on the U.S. Senate. Craig tried to "evade legal consequences" for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge by trying to keep the arrest secret and attempting to withdraw his plea only after it became public, the bipartisan committee said.

Its members also found that Craig broke a Senate rule by failing to seek the committee's permission before spending more than $200,000 in leftover campaign money to try to overturn his plea and clear his name.

After that, Craig stopped using money from his re-election account for his legal bills, most of which came from famed Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney, Billy Martin. Craig opened up the legal expense fund in June under the name "The Fund for Justice."

Most of the donations to Craig's expense fund range from $50 to $300, although Craig received one $1,000 donation from Vicki and Franz White of Star. Contributors include his neighbors Joseph and Elizabeth David, who donated $250, and John and Linda Brewer, who gave him $100. Old friends and neighbors from Weiser also gave. They include Phil Soulen, who donated $50, and Margaret Soulen Hinson and Joseph Hinson, who contributed $100.

Larry and Marianne Williams, who donated park land to the city of Boise and have a portion of Bronco Stadium at Boise State University named for them, gave Craig $500.

Donors are allowed to give up to $10,000 to the expense fund, although lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions. The fund is administered by Craig's former chief of staff, Greg Casey.

In 2007, Craig was one of 41 men who received misdemeanor citations in sting operations based on complaints about the airport bathroom, a meeting place for anonymous gay sex. After his arrest, Craig never consulted a lawyer and pleaded guilty through the mail after a phone conversation with the prosecutor. Craig sought to overturn his guilty plea after his arrest became public, saying he had hoped to keep the incident out of the public eye.

In September, Martin took Craig's appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. They argued that mailed-in guilty pleas don't contain enough evidence to allow a court to find that a crime was committed. They said there was no evidence in the record to support the contention that Craig was in the men's room for anything other than its intended purpose.

A prosecutor argued that Craig's admission of guilt and the details in the police report were enough evidence to justify the acceptance of the plea.

A ruling is expected any day.

Craig decided not to run for re-election and will retire in January after 28 years in Congress. Jim Risch, the Republican lieutenant governor, won Tuesday's election to succeed Craig.

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104