By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge refused on Thursday to dismiss a Federal Election Commission lawsuit that accuses former Sen. Larry Craig of misusing $217,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense after his arrest in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting.
Craig had argued that the airport bathroom trip fell under his official duties as senator because he was traveling between Idaho and Washington for work, and therefore the legal fees could be paid for with campaign money.
But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected that argument. She wrote in her ruling that the charge against Craig didn't relate "to his conduct as a legislator, but only actions undertaken in the privacy and anonymity of a restroom stall." Jackson set a scheduling conference in the case for April 26.
The Idaho Republican was arrested by an undercover police officer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The officer said Craig tapped his feet and signaled under a stall divider that he wanted sex. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. After his arrest later became public, Craig tried unsuccessfully to reverse his conviction.
The FEC allows campaign funds to be used for legal expenses that were caused by a candidate's campaign or officeholder's duties, and determines that on a case-by-case basis. The commission sued Craig last year after concluding his legal problems had nothing to do with campaigning for federal office. The FEC is seeking an order requiring Craig to return the money to his campaign, along with fines of up to $6,500 against Craig and his campaign treasurer, Kaye O'Riordan.
"Senator Craig was arrested for, and pled guilty to, committing a criminal violation of Minnesota state law," Jackson wrote. "One does not need to be a United States congressman - or any sort of federal official - to be charged with this offense, and the arrest did not call into question his conduct as a legislator. Neither the charge nor the underlying conduct had anything to do with his performance of his official duties, so the legal expenses they generated were not incurred in connection with those duties."
In an email, Craig's lawyer, Andrew Herman, said, "We will assess the opinion and decide how to proceed after doing so."
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