Larry Craig

Ex-Sen. Larry Craig appeals ruling on his use of campaign funds

The police officer who arrested Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig in 2007 was frankly dismayed at the lawmaker.

“I guess I’m gonna say I’m just disappointed in you, sir,” the officer told Craig, a transcript shows. “I expect this from the guy that we get out of the ‘hood. I mean, people vote for you.”

This week, Craig’s own attorneys are citing the officer’s scolding as they appeal a trial judge’s decision that the former senator improperly used campaign funds to pay personal legal expenses. The judge ordered Craig to repay $197,535, plus an additional $45,000 fine.

In a 30-page legal brief, where every word carries weight, Craig’s attorneys are implicitly using the police officer’s admonishment to reinforce their key point about their client’s 2007 status as an elected official.

“The expenditures at issue occurred in relation to Sen. Craig’s status as a senator,” Craig’s brief argues. “They did not constitute personal use.”

The brief and accompanying documents filed late Tuesday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit move the long-simmering Craig case closer to the day of reckoning. A three-judge panel could order an oral argument after the Justice Department files its own brief in several weeks.

Often called the nation’s second-highest court, the D.C. Circuit might set precedent for other politicians with its eventual ruling in the case now called Craig v. Federal Election Commission. In particular, the case raises questions about how campaign funds can be used.

“It does matter beyond Sen. Craig,” his attorney, Andrew D. Herman, said in an interview Wednesday. “I suspect the D.C. Circuit is going to want to take a close look at this.”

Craig is now a 69-year-old registered lobbyist, whose recent clients have included Western Pacific Timber, Murray Energy Corp. and the Western New York Healthcare Association.

In 2007, he was a veteran lawmaker and stalwart conservative. First elected to the House of Representatives in 1980, Craig won election to the Senate in 1990.

On June 11, 2007, while returning to Washington, Craig was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport following an encounter in a men’s room with an undercover officer. Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. After this was leaked, he sought to revoke his plea.

“The disclosure of Sen. Craig’s plea opened a Pandora’s box of negative publicity and consequences that derailed Sen. Craig’s career as a legislator and ultimately led to his decision to resign rather than seek re-election,” his latest brief recounts.

After Craig used campaign funds to pay attorneys, the Federal Election Commission filed a complaint against him and ultimately won the decision that’s now being appealed.

“The senator’s arrest was personal and the attendant legal expenditures were not incurred in connection with his official duties, even if he either elected to plead guilty or to change course with his public image in mind,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote.

In their new brief, Craig’s attorneys note that the FEC has previously allowed other lawmakers to use campaign funds for at least some legal expenses seemingly instigated by private behavior.

Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, for instance, used campaign money for some legal expenses associated with a criminal case against the alleged manager of a D.C. escort service. Vitter’s phone number was found in the woman’s records, and the senator paid an attorney to try to quash a subpoena in 2007 and 2008.

The FEC authorized Vitter to use campaign funds for legal expenses related to a subsequent Senate Ethics Committee complaint, Craig’s brief notes, while adding that “the FEC deadlocked on whether Sen. Vitter could use campaign funds to pay his attorneys to monitor legal proceedings and quash subpoenas in that criminal case.”

In a July 2007 statement, Vitter offered “deep and sincere apologies” to all those he’d “disappointed and let down in any way.”

Even if the appellate court agrees that Craig must pay back the $197,535 in legal fees, his attorneys argue that the additional $45,000 fine the judge ordered is unnecessarily harsh.

“The professional and personal consequences, in tandem with disgorgement to the U.S. Treasury, would constitute a sufficient penalty,” Craig’s brief says.