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Judge to rule on ex-Sen. Larry Craig’s use of campaign funds in solicitation case

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A federal court hearing in a lawsuit by the Federal Election Commission accusing former Sen. Larry Craig, whose political career crashed after his 2007 arrest for soliciting sex in a bathroom at a Minneapolis airport, of misusing campaign funds was postponed Wednesday until March 6.

The hearing, before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, was to hear a motion by Mr. Craig's attorneys to dismiss the suit, which accused the lawmaker of improperly using campaign funds to pay his legal fees — a pending ruling that could have a far-reaching impact on other members of Congress.

The June 11 FEC lawsuit accused the former Idaho Republican and his re-election committee of converting more than $200,000 in campaign contributions to Mr. Craig's personal use.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, names Mr. Craig, the "Craig for U.S. Senate Committee" and Kaye O'Riordan, the re-election committee's treasurer. The judge's ruling could determine whether campaign dollars can be spent by lawmakers on personal legal bills.

Members of Congress are allowed to set up legal defense funds for matters pertaining to their official duties. Donors can give up to $10,000 annually to a member of the Senate and $5,000 to a member of the House. The funds are separate from campaign funds and, unlike campaign funds, can include corporate donations in the House.

Mr. Craig's attorneys have insisted their client was "engaged in official Senate-sponsored travel" while in Minnesota and, as a result, was entitled to use campaign cash to pay legal bills as other legally embattled lawmakers have done before him. They argued in court papers that when the events occurred, Mr. Craig "was engaged in official travel from his home in Idaho to a session of Congress in Washington, D.C. commencing that evening."

The FEC lawsuit alleges that Mr. Craig used campaign funds to pay legal expenses he incurred in connection with his June 2007 arrest at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, and efforts he made later to withdraw the guilty plea. From July 9, 2007, through Oct. 5, 2008, the lawsuit said the Craig re-election committee disbursed more than $480,000 for legal fees and other expenses, including more than $200,000 to two law firms for expenses related to Mr. Craig's efforts to withdraw his guilty plea.

The lawsuit said these legal expenses were not incurred in connection with Mr. Craig's campaign for federal office or with his "ordinary and necessary duties" as a senator and, as a result, the payment of these expenses with campaign funds amounted to "impermissible personal use."

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