Craig, the Law, and Senate EthicsAugust 28, 2007 - by Donny Shaw
There has been a lot of discussion about what it was that Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) actually did that was illegal in the events leading to his arrest on June 11th. From an empirical standpoint, all he did was tap his foot, bump his shoe against the shoe of a stranger, and make his hand visible to the person in the bathroom stall next to him. Today the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint (.pdf) with the Select Committee on Ethics that explains the law he was charged with violating and the possible violation of Senate ethics that the group wants to have investigated. First, the law:
>Under Minnesota law, a person who “engages in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous,
or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse
alarm, anger, or resentment in others” in a public or private place, “knowing, or having
reasonable grounds to know that it will, or will tend to, alarm, anger or disturb others or provoke
an assault or breach o f the peace, is guilty o f disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor.”
Minn. Stat. § 609.72(3).
And here is how CREW believes Craig violated the Senate’s ethics rules:
>The Senate Ethics Manual provides that "©ertain conduct has been deemed by the
Senate in prior cases to be unethical and improper even though such conduct may not necessarily
have violated any written law, or Senate rule or regulation. Such conduct has been characterized
as “improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate.”] This rule is intended to protect the
integrity and reputation o f the Senate as a whole. The Ethics Manual explains that “improper
conduct” is given meaning by considering "generally accepted standards o f conduct, the letter
and spirit of laws and Rules . . . "
>Sen. Craig, by pleading guilty, has been adjudicated to have broken Minnesota criminal
law. As a result, the Select Committee on Ethics should investigate the matter and consider
whether Sen. Craig’ s conduct also violates the Senate rule prohibiting improper conduct which
reflects upon the Senate.
CREW didn’t include this in its complaint, but looking through the Senate Ethics Manual (.pdf) seems to indicate that another possible violation of Senate rules occurred when Craig produced his Senate business card during the interogation. The arresting officer’s report stated: “Craig handed me a business card that identified himself as a United States Senator as he stated, ’What do you think about that?” If he was trying to use his business card to “get out of jail free,” it seems to me that he would be violating the Senate Ethics Manual’s rule that “a Member or employee should never use the prestige or influence of a position in the Senate for personal gain.”