Rep. Don Young has reported "no activity" in the special legal fund he set up to accept donations and pay for lawyers assisting his defense in federal investigations.
The surprise disclosure, made in a statement filed Tuesday with the House of Representatives, shows that as of March 31, his re-election campaign treasury remained his main source of funds for his legal defense.
As of the end of March, his campaign account had shelled out $1.1 million in legal fees, mostly to the Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer. More than $210,000 was spent since January, even as the separate legal expense fund remained inactive.
In January, Young's chief of staff and campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson, said Young created the legal expense fund so that contributors to his re-election campaign wouldn't find their money going to lawyers.
Some potential donors had said that they would like to donate to his campaign, Anderson said at the time, 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.
Anderson didn't return two messages left on his cell phone Wednesday.
House ethics rules authorize legal expense funds and allow individuals, companies and unions to donate up to $5,000 a year. The rules are much less restrictive than donations to campaign accounts, where corporate and union money are banned.
Gail Schubert, an Anchorage lawyer who serves as general counsel to the Bering Straits Native Corp., is the trustee for Young's legal expense fund. Her "no activity" report arrived shortly after noon on Tuesday at the House Legislative Resource Center. It was due April 30, but a clerk in that office said she didn't know when Schubert's single-page report was postmarked.
The House Ethics Committee enforces filing deadlines. Staff director Bill O'Reilly said he couldn't comment.
In her report, Schubert gave her address as that of a law firm on L Street in Anchorage, Reeves Amodio. A receptionist there said Schubert is affiliated with the firm but doesn't maintain an office there. Schubert had been traveling in Spain and couldn't be reached, the receptionist said.
Young is under investigation in Alaska in connection with the Veco corruption scandal. Congress has asked the Justice Department to investigate Young's $10 million earmark for a Florida highway interchange sought by a developer who gave him campaign contributions. The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has also touched Young -- one of his key aides pleaded guilty last year and is cooperating with the continuing federal investigation.
Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group in Washington, said that while it's legal to use campaign funds for legal fees, he called the practice an "abuse" of privilege.
"Imagine being a contributor for Don Young," Holman said. "You may like the facts of some of his ideological stances, or his partisan politics, but when you suddenly hear that he was secretly rewriting legislation, that just may be abhorrent to one of Don Young's contributors, and yet Don Young can take that money and use it for his legal defense."
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.