WASHINGTON -- Over the course of 2007, U.S. Rep. Don Young's re-election campaign spent $854,035 on legal fees, according to a new report filed on Thursday. And Alaska's lone congressman still isn't saying what the lawyers are doing for the money.
Meanwhile, three of Young's challengers in this year's elections -- Democrats Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz, and Republican Gabrielle LeDoux -- appear to have raised more money in campaign contributions than Young in the last three months of the year, although he still has more far more money in the bank.
Young, a Republican who has been in office since 1973, spent $407,190 on attorneys in the last three months of 2007 alone, according to his year-end campaign finance statement filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. Among the payments reported: $20,000 to Seattle criminal defense lawyer John Wolfe, who has represented former Alaska Senate President Ben Stevens in an ongoing probe into corruption in state politics.
Like Stevens, son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, Young has not been charged with any wrongdoing. The far-reaching probe made its way to the top political leaders in Alaska, including the elder Stevens. FBI and IRS agents raided the U.S. senator's home in Girdwood last summer as part of an investigation into renovations overseen in 2000 by former Veco CEO Bill Allen. Allen, a major political fundraiser, pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers and was a witness in the ongoing corruption investigation. Veco executives have been, by far, the largest single corporate source of campaign contributions to Young since he's been in office.
Young's campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson, said he couldn't comment on what sort of legal work Young was buying with the money from his campaign account. Previously, the campaign said that Young had retained a Washington, D.C., firm for advice in connection with campaign contributions from a trucking executive under federal indictment in Wisconsin. Thursday, Anderson wouldn't elaborate.
"Mr. Young cannot comment on an ongoing investigation," Anderson said. "He's not at liberty to."
The bulk of the Young campaign legal fees reported in the last quarter, as in previous 2007 reports, went to the Washington, D.C., firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer. The campaign paid the firm a total of $330,619.46 in four payments between October and December, the report shows. For the year, the campaign spent more than $750,000 with the firm, the reports show.
FUND SET UP
Faced with continuing legal costs, Young earlier this month set up a legal expense fund so that his campaign cash wouldn't have to go toward lawyers. Some potential donors had said that they would like to donate to his campaign, Anderson said, but not his legal expenses. Others said they would contribute to his legal bills and not his campaign, Anderson said, so they decided to establish the fund.
The legal fund allows donors who have already contributed the maximum $4,600 allowed by law to contribute as much as $5,000 to the legal expense account. Lobbyists are barred from donating to it and Young can't actively solicit contributions, but individuals and corporations are allowed to give him money. Corporations are forbidden from donating directly to re-election campaigns, however.
Federal Election Commission rules allow public officials to spend their campaign money on attorneys, as long as the legal work is connected to the lawmaker's capacity as an officeholder.
According to filings with the FEC, Young's campaign account hovers just under $1 million, but he has an additional $238,000 in his Midnight Sun political action committee account.
Young took in just $43,850 in the final quarter of 2007, a poor showing for a once-legendary fundraiser who traveled the country picking up checks from donors when he served as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Anderson said the campaign is pleased with its totals.
"Those represent a lot of Alaskans who gave something because they believe in Congressman Young, and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," Anderson said.
But nearly all of Young's opponents fared better last quarter. The sole Republican in the race, state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Kodiak, hadn't yet filed her FEC report late Thursday, but in an interview, she said that she brought in about $110,000 in three months. There was no way of independently confirming the amount.
"This is the first time in a generation that there's ever really been a congressional race in Alaska," LeDoux said. "I think the amount of money I was able to raise in just one quarter shows that there are, No. 1, a lot of people who are unhappy with Congressman Young and, No. 2, a lot of people out there who think I have a decent chance of winning the race."
LeDoux irritated other state Republicans by holding fundraisers in Juneau during the legislative session, and they threatened to vote her out of the caucus. She announced last week that, although it was legal to raise money during the legislative session, she would hold off until it ends.
Young's leading Democratic challenger, former state House minority leader Ethan Berkowitz, has raised $124,201, but has spent little of it so far.
"We're spending some, but we're preparing for a long, expensive battle," Berkowitz said. "Don Young has a lot of money in the bank and a lot of accounts to draw on. He has a lot of resources he can deploy."
Young's 2006 general election opponent, Diane Benson, raised $52,230 in the last quarter of 2007, said her campaign manager, Jeff Leanna. He said he estimates that she has about $32,000 cash on hand. Her FEC paperwork was also not available late Thursday.
Former state Democratic Party chief Jake Metcalfe raised $31,242 and has $11,393 left in his campaign account, FEC filings show.
In the U.S. Senate race, a preliminary FEC report filed by Stevens shows that he raised $207,606 over the past three months. Stevens has $1.7 million in his campaign war chest.