A federal judge has declined to dismiss a Federal Elections Commission lawsuit against former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig (R) for misuse of campaign funds. According to the Associated Press, Craig’s attorneys were unable to convince the court that Craig was on official Senate business when he was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom in a 2007 sex sting.
Craig has argued that because he was traveling from Washington home to Idaho from a Senate session that he was within his rights to appropriate $216,000 of donor money from campaign coffers to pay two teams of lawyers in an effort fight charges related to the arrest.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson disagreed, writing in her ruling that Craig’s actions had nothing to do with “his conduct as a legislator, but only actions undertaken in the privacy and anonymity of a restroom stall.”
In June, 2007, the senator solicited sex from an undercover policeman from an adjacent toilet stall in the airport bathroom. Initially, Craig tried to bully his way out of the charges, handing the arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia his Senate business card and asking, “What do you think of that?”
When Karsnia refused to dismiss the incident, Craig began to insist that the officer was mistaken, that he typically adopts a “wide stance” when sitting on toilets, and that if he touched or tapped his foot at the officer under the stall partition, it was an accident. The senator was charged with disorderly conduct in a plea deal that ultimately downgraded the original public indecency charges.
The FEC has allowed some elected officials to use campaign funds for legal expenses, but determines the legality of such actions on a case-by-case basis. The watchdog group has ordered Craig to return the purloined funds along with fines of $6,500 levied against Craig and his campaign treasurer Kaye O’Riordian.
“Senator Craig was arrested for, and pled guilty to, committing a criminal violation of Minnesota state law,” wrote Judge Jackson. “One does not need to be a United States congressman — or any sort of federal official — to be charged with this offense, and the arrest did not call into question his conduct as a legislator. Neither the charge nor the underlying conduct had anything to do with his performance of his official duties, so the legal expenses they generated were not incurred in connection with those duties.”