Former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig is defending himself from a Federal Elections Commission lawsuit by citing a Senate rule that allows reimbursement for the costs of using the bathroom while on official Senate trips.
The FEC has accused Craig of inappropriately using $217,000 from his campaign to pay legal fees related to criminal charges of soliciting sex from an undercover officer in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2007. Craig was waiting for a connecting flight to Washington to attend a scheduled vote, according to the FEC lawsuit filed against Craig and his campaign in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Attorneys with Brand Law Firm in Washington filed a motion to dismiss Thursday, arguing that the funds were appropriately used for "ordinary and necessary expenses" because the incident occurred while Craig was doing his job as an elected federal official, as he was on an official Senate trip.
"The fact he went to the men's room in the course of that doesn't make it not official," attorney Stan Brand said in an interview Friday. Brand also represented Craig on accusations before the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
To bolster that point, part of Craig's motion points out that not only are official Senate trips protected by such things as immunity from arrest, Senate rules specifically allow for reimbursement "for any cost relating to a Senator's use of a bathroom while on official travel."
There are no hard and fast rules under FEC regulations for whether the use of campaign funds for legal fees is a personal use. It is determined on a case-by-case basis, but legal fees are not treated as though they are related to the office just because they affect the officeholder, FEC regulations state.
That means that legal expenses associated with a divorce or driving under the influence of alcohol will be treated as personal, and campaign funds cannot be used, the FEC regulations state.
Craig's attorneys argue his legal costs were different that those examples, "because, in contrast to the FEC's hypothetical divorce or drunk driving expenses, Senator Craig was engaged in official, constitutionally-mandated activity at the time of the incident."
On June 11, 2007, Craig was arrested and charged with Minnesota criminal statutes of disturbing the peace-disorderly conduct and interference with privacy. He pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge as part of a plea agreement, but then denied that he had solicited sex in the restroom from an undercover officer.
Craig attempted to withdraw that guilty plea. To that end, his campaign, Craig for U.S. Senate, paid $139,952 to retain the Washington firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and $77,032 to the Minnesota firm of Kelly & Jacobson to serve as local counsel, according to the FEC lawsuit.
The FEC declined to comment Friday on the motion to dismiss. A ruling is expected to take months.