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.