The Federal Election Commission ruled today that U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller can use campaign funds to appeal an $84,000 judgment arising from a campaign related lawsuit.
The FEC, though, stopped short of saying a candidate can use campaign money to pay a penalty arising from his own bad conduct in a court case. That distinction probably won’t matter to Miller.
A cardinal rule of the FEC is that a candidate can’t use campaign funds for personal use.
Everyone agrees the lawsuit at the heart of the Miller case was campaign-related. During his 2010 run for Senate, the Alaska Dispatch and other media outlets sued to get records from his previous job at the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Miller argued the personnel files were private, and he lost.
Earlier this year an Alaska Superior Court judge ordered him to pay the Dispatch $85,000 in attorney’s fees. The tricky part for the FEC was that the state judge ruled Miller acted in bad faith during the case by hiding information, among other issues, and that tripled the amount she ordered him to pay.
FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said it may have been the campaign that drew Miller into the lawsuit, but that doesn’t mean everything he did was campaign-related.
“Once he got there, how he conducted himself in that litigation was up to him, and people are allowed to be vigorous advocates on their own behalf, but this sounds like he may have crossed the line, at least in the opinion of this judge,” Weintraub said.
As another commissioner put it, a candidate shouldn’t be allowed to use campaign money to pay a penalty arising from his own bad behavior.
Bill Olson, an attorney representing Miller at the meeting today, said it was all campaign-related and the FEC shouldn’t try to second guess Miller’s trial strategy.
“Litigation is a messy business, and many arguments can be made one way and the other and the key question comes back to whether the regs are the regs,” Olson said.
On a 5-1 vote, the FEC ruled Miller can use campaign funds to post a bond so that he can appeal, because the lawsuit DID arise from his campaign. But they expressly did not rule he could also use campaign money to pay the judgment. The chairwoman said she did not want to set that precedent.
She acknowledged it will make no difference to Miller.
He has already paid more than $90,000 in campaign funds to serve as a cash bond in the court case.
If he loses the appeal, the court could just pay that money to the Dispatch.
Miller did not attend today’s FEC meeting in Washington. A spokesman said he didn’t want to comment for this story because of the appeal.