Rep. Young’s challenger says his receipt of contributions by a maritime company amounts to ‘legalized bribery’

The Democratic challenger to Rep. Don Young launched a campaign broadside against the lawmaker on Wednesday, accusing Young of participating in "legalized bribery" with a nonunion maritime company set to take over oil-spill prevention efforts in Prince William Sound.

The attack against Young, during a media event outside the lawmaker's Anchorage office, also highlighted the unusual shift of two maritime unions that have long supported Young, a Republican and former Yukon riverboat captain.

The unions are now leaning toward challenger Steve Lindbeck, a Democrat, because of Lindbeck's opposition to the anticipated awarding of the contract by the trans-Alaska pipeline operator to Edison Chouest Offshore, from Louisiana. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. says Edison Chouest is poised to take over from Crowley Marine, a union company.

"We're reaching out to all politicians but we're very pleased with Steve Lindbeck's response and his passion to save jobs in Alaska and protect the environment," said Alan Cote, the national president of the Seattle-based Inlandboatmen's Union, with about 5,000 members. 

[Maritime unions launch ad campaign to stop Alyeska Pipeline from selecting Edison Chouest]

Lindbeck has said Young should be speaking out and asking questions about the 10-year contract for spill-response and tanker-escort services that Alyeska has said it intends to sign with Edison Chouest, one of the companies faulted by the U.S. Coast Guard in the grounding of Shell's Kulluk drilling rig in late 2012.

"Don Young is pretty good at raising hell," Lindbeck said. "He should be doing that now."


Young's campaign has said it's not appropriate for the lawmaker to voice his opinion on a private contract decision, which would lead to the replacement in 2018 of longtime contract provider Florida-based Crowley Marine.

The bulk of Crowley's 250-person workforce in Prince William Sound is represented by IBU and the Maryland-based International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots. The unions on Tuesday launched a television and online advertising campaign urging Alaskans to speak out against Edison Chouest.

Jerry Hood, Young's campaign manager and a former Alaska Teamster leader, shot back to say Lindbeck is making "disingenuous and untruthful" attacks.

"Our opponent is engaging in classic political theater, a move that smacks more of Venezuelan politics than American," Hood said. "To demand congressional intervention in a private industry contract negotiation shows that Mr. Lindbeck is unfit and unqualified for public office."

At Lindbeck's press event, where Cote also spoke, Lindbeck said Young has taken $297,000 in contributions from Edison Chouest and its employees and related companies since 2007, making the company by far the biggest contributor to his campaign and a legal defense fund Young set up when he was under investigation by the FBI.

Lindbeck said Edison Chouest's contributions, and Young's silence on the topic, are a prime example of the "legalized bribery" in politics that has frustrated many Americans.

Lindbeck said the contract is not entirely a private issue because it affects public resources, such as oil, fish stocks and the Sound, site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Lindbeck said he was the chief writer of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission report that addressed the causes and consequences of that spill.

"He says it's not his place to weigh in," Lindbeck said. "I say Don Young has never been shy to weigh in on just about anything. Where is he now?"

Hood, in his emailed response, did not answer a question from a reporter asking if Edison Chouest had bought Young's silence.

But Hood said: "Congressman Young has never tried to influence private business decisions. Those actions go against his fundamental belief in less government interference and the U.S. Constitution."

Repeating an accusation raised by the unions and some Crowley workers, Lindbeck said Edison Chouest plans to "outsource" 250 Alaska jobs to Louisiana. He charged Young has "sold out" to Alaska workers.

Michelle Egan, Alyeska's communications director, said the assertion that more than 200 Alaska jobs will be lost is based on faulty assumptions.

Crowley's employees are currently not all Alaskans, she said. It's also wrong to assume Edison Chouest won't hire Alaskans in the future. Some Crowley employees might be hired by Edison Chouest to perform similar jobs, she said.

She said Alyeska expects Edison Chouest and other large contractors to meet a 20 percent Alaska Native hire goal, as spelled out in the federal grant and right of way agreement signed before the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline was built in 1977, Egan said.

Alyeska operates the pipeline and manages the spill-response and tanker-escort contract on behalf of its owners, primarily BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Don Marcus, president of the Masters, Mates and Pilots union, asserted Edison Chouest has a "dismal" labor-relations record and won't meet hiring promises it may make while negotiating a contract.

Marcus said the union and its roughly 5,000 members have regularly supported Young because he typically supports maritime issues the union also supports.


But he said the union may throw its support behind Lindbeck in this election.

It's "baffling" that a former tugboat captain would support the company involved in the grounding of the Kulluk, Marcus said.

"We haven't had discussions with Don Young at this point, but we are taken aback with the connection between Edison Chouest and the congressman," Marcus said. "It is shocking."

Cote, with the IBU, said the union has regularly endorsed Young in the past. Cote said he's personally given Young checks at fundraisers over the years.

But the relationship is now strained, said Cote, who said he worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill response in 1989.

Young and other Alaska politicians who have also received large donations from Edison Chouest need to speak out about the proposed contract, he said.

"If they had created a couple hundreds jobs in Alaska, they'd want this on the front-page, but now there's possibility of jobs being lost and they're keeping quiet," he said.

The IBU has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Congressional race. Cote said the union will consider any politician who fights to protect Alaska jobs in the Sound.


He said he met with Young's staff recently, but was disappointed with the answer that Young doesn't get involved in private corporate deals.

"I find that a little hard to believe," said Cote.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or