JUNEAU — U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller will be allowed to use campaign funds for a legal case dating to his unsuccessful 2010 run for office in Alaska, the Federal Election Commission decided Thursday.
The commission approved an advisory opinion related to a public records case in which Miller was ordered to pay $85,000 in legal costs to the Alaska Dispatch.
The online publication and other media organizations, including The Associated Press, successfully sued near the end of the hotly contested 2010 U.S. Senate race for access to records from Miller’s tenure as a part-time attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Miller was disciplined in 2008 for using work computers for political purposes, details of which were included in his personnel file and released prior to the election.
The Dispatch pursued attorney fees and costs in the matter. In May, state court Judge Stephanie Joannides ordered Miller to pay more than $85,000 in legal costs to the Dispatch. She also found that Miller’s conduct in the case caused unnecessary delays and costs for the Dispatch and the borough.
Miller is appealing Joannides’ decision.
Through an attorney, Miller had asked the FEC whether campaign funds could be used as a cash deposit with the court while he appeals. He also asked if campaign funds could be used to pay the judgment if he loses the appeal.
Miller’s second-quarter campaign finance report showed a June disbursement of about $94,000 for the court deposit.
The FEC found the lawsuit would not have existed “irrespective of Miller’s campaign,” though questions were raised during Thursday’s FEC hearing about what precedent the opinion might set.
The language in the adopted opinion is somewhat softer than in a draft opinion the panel was considering.
While the draft explicitly said Miller could use campaign funds both as cash deposit while he appeals and to satisfy any judgment if his appeal fails, the opinion approved on 5-1 blunted the language surrounding the judgment. It was amended to say the commission recognizes that under relevant court rules, the Alaska Dispatch would have the right to use the money Miller deposited with the court and apply it to their judgment if he loses his appeal.
Miller burst onto the political scene with his upset of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary. Murkowski went on to keep her seat after mounting an historic write-in campaign.
Miller is currently running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Begich, who is seeking re-election. Other Republican candidates include Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former state Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan.
That election is next year.