The House Ethics Committee today issued a letter of reprimand to Alaska Congressman Don Young for spending campaign money on trips to hunting lodges and improperly accepting gifts, many of them from lobbyists and related to travel.
The letter, and the report that backs it up, focus on $56,000 worth of rides in private planes, stays at hunting lodges, golf, meals, and in one specific instance, a pair of $400 boots. The committee says Young has to repay $28,000 to the gift-givers, and use personal funds to repay $31,000 in misused campaign funds.
Young’s spokesman said the congressman would not talk about the report today. In a written statement, Young said he regretted what he called oversights and apologized.
He’s already repaid the money.
“Some of them are tough calls,”says Young’s lawyer, John Dowd. He says the people who hosted the trips played several roles in Young’s life, so the purpose wasn’t always clear-cut. “There are people who are campaign supporters, there are people who have an interest in transportation, there are friends of his, so that all gets mixed together sometimes on these trips. Sometimes it didn’t get sorted out. Sometimes it did.”
Dowd says after the Justice Department investigation, Young laid out all the information about his travel for the Ethics Committee. The committee found Young improperly accepted gifts and 15 trips dating as far back as 2001 and as recently as last year. Most of the travel occurred from 2004 to 2006, when Young chaired the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. At the time, he was raking in campaign contributions from the construction and transportation industries around the country
The gift-givers listed in the report include former Young staffers who became lobbyists, like C.J. Zane and Duncan Smith, Texas Lobbyist Randy Delay, and Tom Johnson, an executive at the Texas branch of Associated General Contractors. Many of the trips were to Texas lodges. The most expensive on the list, more than $11,000, was to the Mariposa Ranch in south Texas, paid for mostly by Houston-based construction conglomerate KBR.
Lobbyist Duncan Smith bought the $400 Le Chameau boots. The company specializes in knee-high rubber boots lined in leather.
The ethics case against Young originated with a wide-ranging Department of Justice investigation started at least eight years ago. In 2010, the Justice Department said it wouldn’t pursue charges against Young and instead sent a letter about him to the Ethics Committee. The panel says, with such old evidence, it couldn’t find that Young’s acceptance of the trips and gifts was purposeful or corrupt. The committee, though, noted Young listed none of it on his required personal financial disclosure documents. The Committee did not recommend the harsher penalty of censure by the full House of Representatives.
Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the punishment amounts to a letter saying, in effect, ‘bad Congressman.”
University of Alaska political science professor Forrest Nabors says he doubts the reprimand will affect Young’s re-election in November. Violations like these aren’t important to people outside Washington, Nabors says, and anyway, Alaskans have been hearing about Young being investigated for years.
“It doesn’t seem to deter them from re-electing him,” Nabors says “He has very strong relationships in the state.”
Forrest Dunbar, the latest Democrat running against Young, has raised less than a tenth of the campaign war chest Young has. In a written statement today, Dunbar called Young a repeat ethics offender.
Read House Ethics Committee statement.
Rep. Young’s statement:
I accept the House Committee on Ethics’ report and regret the oversights it has identified. There were a number of instances where I failed to exercise due care in complying with the House’s Code of Conduct and for that I apologize. As the Committee indicates in its report, I never made any knowingly false statements to government officials nor did I act corruptly or in bad faith.
I have made each of the payments recommended by the Committee and have taken significant steps since 2007 to strengthen my office’s polices for compliance with the Code of Conduct to ensure that these types of oversights do not happen again. It is through these actions that I show my colleagues and Alaskans that I fully respect the House Rules and will continue to comply with them now and in the future.
I am pleased that today’s decision represents the conclusion of an extended inquiry by both the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Ethics and I will continue to faithfully serve the people of Alaska.