Court: Larry Craig’s legal fees appealing bathroom conviction are not a campaign expense

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday refused to dismiss a Federal Election Commission claim that former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig should return more than $200,000 in campaign funds spent to overturn his 2007 guilty plea for disorderly conduct in an airport bathroom.

The court rejected Craig’s motion to dismiss the FEC’s civil lawsuit against Craig’s campaign committee seeking repayment and civil penalties under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Minnesota courts rejected Craig’s effort to withdraw his guilty plea in connection with his June 2007 arrest in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport as he was on his way from Idaho to Washington, D.C. Craig was detained as a result of a police sting aimed at discouraging homosexual conduct in the airport restroom. He quietly pleaded guilty, but attempted to withdraw his plea after his conviction was reported in the media in August 2007.

“The Court rejects defendants’ assertion that the expenditures were permitted under the Act since it concludes that they cannot be characterized as ordinary and necessary expenses in connection with Senator Craig’s duties as an office holder,” wrote U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a 24-page opinion.

Jackson also rejected Craig’s argument that FEC precedents permitted the spending of campaign funds for Craig’s legal expenses, writing, “Defendants’ second argument – that prior FEC opinions compel the dismissal of this action – misstates the holding of those opinions, minimizes the key distinctions between those cases and the one before the Court, and disregards clear admonitory language in the very opinion that defendants insist bears most directly on this case.”

The FEC’s case is filed against Craig, his campaign committee and campaign treasurer Kaye O’Riordan. After news of his conviction, Craig first said he was going to resign, but soon recanted and completed his 24 years of service in Congress in January 2009. Attempts by the FEC and Craig to negotiate a settlement failed.

With the judge’s order that the case will proceed, the next step is a status and scheduling conference April 26.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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