Lawyers for former Sen. Larry Craig argued today that using campaign money for a legal defense over his 2007 arrest was proper because he was arrested while on official business.
If you recall, Craig, a Republican from Idaho, was arrested during a sting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Craig used a bathroom there during a layover, when an undercover officer said Craig sexually solicited him by tapping his foot.
Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor but after his case became public he tried to renege.
The Federal Elections Commission sued him for using more than $216,000 in campaign money for that legal fight.
The Associated Press reports today a federal judge "sounded skeptical" over Craig's defense.
The AP explains:
"[U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson] pointedly reminded Craig's lawyer, Andrew D. Herman, of his client's guilty plea. 'That had no connection to his duties, other than being in an airport,' she said.
"Jackson pointed out a letter Craig's lawyers wrote to the Senate Ethics Committee in 2007 describing Craig's arrest and conviction as 'purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties.'
"'I'm supposed to ignore that?' she asked."
McClatchy previewed the case last month. While it may sound sensational, the case will also prove important for how future campaign money can be spent.
Other politicians, reports McClatchy, have turned to campaign money to help mount a legal defense. For example:
"Former Democratic California Rep. Gary Condit, for one, used more than $100,000 in campaign funds for attorneys during a 2001 police investigation into missing intern Chandra Levy. New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel used more than $300,000 from his political action committee to pay attorneys during a 2009-2010 House ethics investigation. Former Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney used more than $100,000 in campaign funds to pay attorneys during a 2007 ethics investigation.
"And, in a 2007 advisory opinion with some parallels to Craig's case, the Federal Election Commission concluded that former Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe could use campaign funds to pay attorneys as he faced investigations. The House ethics committee and Justice Department inquiries dealt in part with Kolbe's alleged behavior with male House pages during a 1996 Grand Canyon trip."
Craig's lawyers argued they were not asking for any special treatment from the Federal Elections Commission.