Craig raises only $4,600 for legal defense fund

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 7, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Larry Craig has raised just $4,645 since setting up a legal expense fund this spring to help pay the bills from his efforts to overturn his guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Craig, who was arrested during a 2007 sex sting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, continues to fight his guilty plea in Minnesota's higher courts. He had a Sept. 10 hearing in front of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

In February, the Senate Ethics Committee chastised him with a letter of public admonishment, saying his arrest constituted "improper conduct" reflecting poorly on the U.S. Senate.

Craig tried to "evade legal consequences" for his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge by trying to keep the arrest secret and attempting to withdraw his plea only after it became public, the bipartisan committee said. Its members also found that Craig broke a Senate rule by failing to seek the committee's permission before spending more than $200,000 in leftover campaign money to try to overturn his plea and clear his name.

After that, Craig stopped using money from his re-election account for his legal bills, most of which came from famed Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney, Billy Martin. Craig opened up the legal expense fund in June under the name "The Fund for Justice."

Most of the donations to Craig's expense fund range from $50 to $300, although Craig received one $1,000 donation from Vicki and Franz White of Star, Idaho. Contributors include his neighbors Joseph and Elizabeth David, who donated $250, and John and Linda Brewer, who gave him $100. Old friends and neighbors from Weiser also gave. They include Phil Soulen, who donated $50, and Margaret Soulen Hinson and Joseph Hinson, who contributed $100.

Larry and Marianne Williams, who donated parkland to the city of Boise and have a portion of Bronco Stadium at Boise State University named for them, also gave Craig $500.

Donors are allowed to give up to $10,000 to the expense fund, although lobbyists are prohibited from making contributions. The fund is administered by Craig's former chief of staff, Greg Casey.

In 2007, Craig was one of 41 men who were issued misdemeanor citations last year in sting operations based on complaints about the bathroom, which had such infamy as a meeting place for anonymous gay sex that it was listed in an Internet guide to such locales.

After his own arrest, Craig never consulted a lawyer and pleaded guilty through the mail, following a phone conversation with the prosecutor. Craig didn't seek to overturn his guilty plea until his arrest became public.

In September, Martin took Craig's appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, where they argued that mailed-in guilty pleas don't contain sufficient evidence to allow a court to find that a crime was committed. They argued there was no evidence in the record to support the contention that Craig was in the bathroom for anything other than the legitimate reason of using the bathroom. The prosecutor in the case argued that Craig's own admission of guilt, as well as the details in the police report, were enough evidence for a judge to accept the guilty plea. A ruling from the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected any day.

Craig decided not to run for re-election and will retire in January after 28 years in Congress. Jim Risch, the Republican lieutenant governor of Idaho, won the Nov. 4 election to replace Craig.

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