Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig aims to fend off a federal election lawsuit… (Joe Jaszewski, The Idaho…)
WASHINGTON -- A former senator. A scandal. A court case over campaign spending.
Not John Edwards. This time, it’s former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who’s fighting the Federal Elections Commission's attempt to force him to pay back more than $200,000 in campaign funds. Craig used the funds for his legal expenses in connection with his 2007 arrest at a men’s restroom.
The FEC contends the expenses were "not made in connection with his campaign for federal office or for ordinary and necessary expenses incurred in connection with his duties as a senator.’’ As such, the commission says, using the funds for his legal defense violates the prohibition on personal use of political donations, according to court papers filed in the District of Columbia federal court.
Craig’s attorneys have asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, arguing that Craig’s legal expenses arose during official Senate travel.
"Sen. Craig’s legal proceedings created more than a tangential impact on his status as an officeholder,’’ his attorneys said in court filings. They noted that the commission, in similar cases, has "ignored the substance of members’ underlying conduct and focused simply on whether the allegations occurred during the course of official activity.’’ In this case, they say, Craig was engaged in "official travel.’’
No ruling is expected for months.
Craig, who retired from the Senate in January 2009 and who now works for a Washington, D.C., consulting and lobbying firm, was arrested in 2007 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an undercover officer investigating complaints of lewd conduct.
The officer said Craig used signals, including tapping his foot and repeatedly sliding his hand under the restroom stall divider, to show that he was seeking sex. According to the officer, Craig explained his actions by saying that he had "a wide stance" and that he was picking up a piece of paper on the floor.
Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct; after the incident became public, he attempted to withdraw the guilty plea.
Unlike the recent criminal campaign finance case against one-time Democratic presidential candidate and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the Craig case is a civil matter.
Edwards was accused of using campaign donations to hide his pregnant mistress in order to save his 2008 presidential campaign from scandal. After a jury acquitted Edwards of one felony charge and deadlocked on five others, prompting a mistrial, the Justice Department dismissed the remaining charges.
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