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Fishery interests top givers to Young fund

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Don Young's spending on lawyers appears to be slowing, as has the money he's raising to pay his legal bills.

The Alaska Republican's legal expense fund raised $5,000 from Trident Seafoods Corp. in January, according to paperwork filed this week with the U.S. House of Representatives. Most of the donations to the fund since he opened it last year have come from fishery interests.

Young, who has paid out more than $1 million from his re-election treasury over the last several years for legal expenses connected to an FBI probe of his office, set up the legal expense fund last year to cover the costs. He has stopped paying legal bills with his campaign money, which dwindled after a competitive race last year.

The fund paid $6,000 to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in the first three months of 2009. Of that, $5,000 went to attorney James Sharp. Another $1,000 was paid directly to the firm, according to the paperwork. Overall, the fund has raised $82,000 and spent $73,415.

The status of the federal probe remains unclear. Last year, during a debate, Young said that he used campaign money to pay his expensive legal defense because he doesn't have his own money to spend defending the inquiry. Young has never detailed the exact nature of the investigation, but last year Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate an earmark in Florida that stood to benefit a campaign contributor.

Young also has been tied to the federal probe into corruption in Alaska politics, which included the fundraising practices of the former oil services company Veco Corp. and Bill Allen, its chief executive. Allen was the star witness in the October trial of then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was found guilty of lying on disclosure forms, but a judge dismissed the jury's findings last month after prosecutorial irregularities emerged in the case.

Young's campaign spokesman said last year that the congressman established the fund in part so that his campaign cash wouldn't have to go toward lawyers, but also so that he could tap a new source of donors, including people who had already given to his campaign.

The legal fund allows donors who have already contributed the maximum $4,600 allowed by law to contribute as much as $5,000 in additional money to the legal expense account. Lobbyists are barred from donating to it, and Young can't actively solicit contributions. But individuals who aren't lobbyists and corporations are allowed to give him money. Corporations are forbidden from donating directly to re-election campaigns, however.

Many of Alaska's political leaders, including Stevens and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have come to rely on legal expense funds to help pay lawyers.

The governor's friends and supporters in Alaska last week set up a legal expense fund to help Palin pay more than $500,000 in legal bills racked up defending ethics complaints, including one she filed against herself when she was a Republican vice presidential candidate last year.

The legal expense fund modeled itself after funds of other well-known political figures, including former first lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Kerry and Stevens. However, the trustees capped donations to Palin's fund at $150. Lobbyists, corporations, labor unions and non-U.S. citizens cannot donate to the governor's fund.

Find Erika Bolstad online at adn.com/contact/ebolstad or call her in Washington, D.C., at 202-383-6104.


By ERIKA BOLSTAD
ebolstad@adn.com