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FEC: Former Sen. Larry Craig ignored warnings, spent cash illegally

FEC: Former Sen. Larry Craig ignored warnings, spent cash illegally
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Federal Election Commission lawyers urged a federal judge not to heed U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's contention that regulators are being too hard on him - and to force him to pay nearly $360,000 in fines and restitution for tapping campaign accounts for his legal defense following his 2007 arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting.

The FEC, which announced its latest legal filing Friday, says the Idaho Republican ignored the U.S. Senate's own warnings not to spend the money. Craig also has acknowledged the campaign didn't seek out FEC guidance on whether he should spend the money or not because he was worried it would tell him not to do it, its lawyers wrote.

Craig and his campaign "ignored admonitory language in FEC guidance indicating their spending would be illegal, and they now admit that they did not ask for their own advisory opinion because they were concerned the commission might say no," said FEC attorney Kevin Hancock in the 43-page filing. "Instead, defendants spent the campaign funds, and they continued even after the Senate Ethics Committee warned them they were likely violating" the Federal Election Campaign Act.

On Friday, FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram declined further comment.

Now, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson has several options, including ruling on the FEC's demand Craig pay restitution of $216,000 to his campaign fund and fines of $140,000, or scheduling a courtroom hearing for further arguments.

This battle has endured more than a year, as the commission seeks to force Craig to repay his campaign. Negotiations failed, and the two sides are entrenched.

Andrew Herman, Craig's Washington, D.C.- based lawyer, declined comment on Friday, saying he'd wait for the court to make the next move.

But in court filings last month, Herman told Berman Jackson the FEC's proposed penalties amounted to "harsh, unjustified remedies."

Additionally, Herman wrote Craig is financially unable to cover the total - contrary to the FEC's claims - and that the former three-term GOP lawmaker acted in good faith, having genuinely thought using campaign cash was appropriate.

Herman contends Craig hired lawyers in his unsuccessful bid to have his guilty plea to disorderly conduct reversed "with the sole purpose of defending Senator Craig's reputation and vindicating him personally and professionally." This backs up Craig's key contention: The legal fees he incurred - along with his July 11, 2007, trip to the airport bathroom in Minneapolis while returning to Washington, D.C. - were part of official business as a U.S. senator, not a personal expense to be covered out of his own pocketbook.

The FEC, meanwhile, argues nothing about Craig's July restroom trip or its legal aftermath entitled him to tap campaign funds.

"What matters is whether Craig's officeholder duties resulted in his arrest and expenses. They did not," Hancock wrote, citing Berman Jackson's decision last March declining to dismiss the FEC's complaint against him.

Then, the federal judge wrote "The charge did not relate to his conduct as a legislator, but only actions undertaken in the privacy and anonymity of a restroom stall."

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