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Young legal fund is target of ethics probe

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

Alaska Congressman Don Young is the target of an ethics inquiry into whether he took more contributions than allowed to pay his legal bills.

The U.S. House Committee on Ethics publicly acknowledged the probe for the first time Monday and said the panel will decide by Jan. 11 what's next.

The Office of Congressional Ethics started the review in late June and referred it to the ethics committee on Oct. 13. It became public on Monday because the ethics committee said it needs more time to look into the matter. An extension has to be made public.

Young spokesman Luke Miller said Monday that Young has cooperated in the inquiry and made efforts on his own to sort out if rules were broken.

"Considering the hell Congressman Young has gone through over the past five years, he would not knowingly do anything that would violate House rules. Congressman Young will continue to work with the Ethics Committee as they resolve this matter and he is prepared to return any contribution that is deemed in excess of the limit," Miller said in an email.

Young set up a legal expense fund in 2008 to help cover costs associated with the long federal investigation into his campaign fundraising and other matters. Young announced in August 2010 he had received a letter from the Justice Department saying he wouldn't be prosecuted. He continued to raise money for his legal bills, however.

The ethics committee didn't say Monday what the current probe is about. But Young's staff said the issue is whether contributions made to Young's legal expense fund in early 2011 were over the $5,000 limit that is allowed.

Young's office provided copies of correspondence indicating the issue was 12 contributions made to his fund by companies owned in Louisiana. Young told investigators he received the checks during a trip to Texas for a campaign fundraiser in January.

The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call reported in May that Gary Chouest, president of marine transportation company Edison Chouest Offshore, and members of his family had used a dozen corporate entities to contribute $60,000 to Young's fund, with each entity giving him $5,000. According to Roll Call, the advocacy group Public Citizen called the contributions a way to get around the $5,000 limit on how much an individual or organization can donate to a congressman's legal fund.

The Office of Congressional Ethics started its review on June 22. Young wrote the ethics committee shortly after, saying his trustee had believed the contributions were legal and asking for an opinion. Young later told the congressional ethics office the rules are not clear on whether multiple companies owned by the same person could legally donate to the fund.

"(My) Trustee's opinion was that if the twelve companies in question were separate legal entities and operated under separate financial records that they could each make a legal donation to the trust," Young wrote the ethics office.

Edison Chouest, which is building ships that Shell hopes to use as part of offshore drilling in Alaska, is a major campaign contributor to all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation.

Reach Sean Cockerham at scockerham@adn.com or 257-4344.


By SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News / adn.com