SPOKANE Wash. – Former Idaho Senator Larry Craig has not held public office for nearly a decade, but a 2 on Your Side investigation shows he was still using campaign funds as recently as 2016.
Craig was surrounded by controversy in 2007, after his arrest in an airport bathroom for allegedly soliciting sex from a plain-clothes police officer. He pled guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. Once the public got word of what happened, Craig said it was all just a misunderstanding.
The Senate launched an Ethics Investigation, but Craig remained in office until the end of his term in January 2009. He retired from public office and formed his own lobbying company. But a look at his campaign filings shows it took much longer to retire his war chest.
Craig is not currently under investigation for breaking any law or violating Federal Election Commission rules. His spending after he left office does point to, what many would call, a gray area when it comes to how politicians are spending the money donated for their campaigns. We are talking about private donations, from people like you, or corporate donations and money from lobbying groups. The FEC said the average campaign should be wrapped, and its accounts closed, within six months of leaving office.
FEC records show Craig maintained a cell phone with campaign funds for nearly eight months after leaving office. Those bills amounted to almost $2,000. Another $700 went to meeting expenses. In the two years after leaving office, the biggest expense by far was more than $4,000 paid to himself for reasons listed as travel or non-travel reimbursement.
The FEC said there are options for lawmakers on how to use leftover campaign dollars. It can be donated to charity, transferred to Political Action Committees or donated to other candidates or party organizations. It is just not supposed to go to personal use.
After Craig left office, 2 on Your Side also found his wife Suzanne was paid nearly $1,000 from campaign donations, also for non-travel reimbursement. Between the two of them, those payments came at least 12 times. In 2011, $4,000 went to legal fees and $600 for office supplies. In 2016, nearly eight years after leaving office, $500 for the Idaho Republican Party and another $135 on office supplies. Altogether, it is more than $15,000 of campaign money spent after Craig's Senate term when he was actually working for special interests.
It is important to note, after his arrest, Craig spent nearly $500,000 on lawyers and crisis management. While he was still in office, Craig was warned by the Senate Ethics Committee that further use of campaign funds on legal expenses, without approval, would be a disregard of ethics requirements. He ended up being sued by the FEC in 2012, and was eventually fined and ordered to pay the U.S. government $242,000.
KREM 2 reached out to Craig a few weeks ago on the phone and asked the former Senator if he worried that it could be viewed as an improper use of campaign money almost eight years after retirement. He said no, he is not worried about that, and that all of his expenditures were within the scope of the law.
Craig is actually one of the rare cases when he was penalized for misusing campaign money. There are at least a hundred more zombie accounts from ex-politicians still spending campaign money, long after their campaigns are dead, on everything from fancy dinners to paying family members.
In some cases, the politician has passed away, and someone else is spending the money, all while the agency that is supposed to oversee campaign spending allows it with no questions asked.