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On March 4, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the summary judgment issued by the U.S. District Court in FEC v. Craig for U.S. Senate, finding that former Senator Larry Craig (Craig) and Craig for U.S. Senate (Craig Committee) unlawfully converted campaign funds to personal use. The Court of Appeals also affirmed the district court’s ruling that Craig must pay back the $197,935 he spent in violation of the law to the U.S. Treasury, and must also pay a $45,000 civil penalty.
The Commission’s complaint alleged that Craig, the Craig Committee, and its treasurer violated the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) ban on converting campaign funds to personal use by spending approximately $200,000 on legal expenses related to Craig’s 2007 arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. 52 U. S. C. §30114(b) (at the time 2 U. S. C. §439a(b)).
The defendants moved to dismiss the suit, but the district court denied their
motion. The Commission then moved for summary judgment, arguing that Craig’s
spending violated the FECA. The defendants responded by arguing that the use of
campaign funds for the former Senator’s legal expenses was permissible under the
FECA and not subject to the provisions banning personal use. The defendants
further claimed that several FEC advisory opinions, including Advisory Opinion
2013-11 (Miller), approved the use of campaign funds for similar situations.
The district court granted the Commission’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the defendants violated the FECA when they used campaign funds to pay legal expenses that Craig incurred for personal criminal conduct, unrelated to his duties as a federal officeholder. The court concluded that the defendants converted $197,535 in campaign funds to personal use. The court ordered Craig to disgorge that $197,535 to the U.S. Treasury and to pay a $45,000 civil penalty.
The appeals court agreed with the Commission that the criminal allegations that gave rise to Craig's guilty plea did not concern the Senator’s official duties. Therefore, the funds expended by the Craig Committee to defend against the charges were indeed "personal use." The court further concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Craig to disgorge $197,935 to the U.S. Treasury, nor in ordering a civil penalty of $45,000.