How a late flight kept Alaska Rep. Don Young out of a thorny ethics vote

WASHINGTON — Alaska's sole congressman, Don Young, wasn't around Monday night when a majority of members of the Republican Conference voted to advance a measure that would have gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics of independence and transparency measures. His flight back from Alaska was delayed.

But Young, who has his own history of ethics investigations, would have backed the House rules package that included the provision to go after the Office of Congressional Ethics, he said through his spokesman Matt Shuckerow.

The House Republican Conference held a meeting Monday to decide on the rules of the 115th Congress, which began Tuesday. They voted 119-74 to include a provision that would block the citizen committee from investigating criminal charges and sharing investigation results with the press. It would have given the House Ethics Committee power to end investigations.

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Like some of his colleagues, Young "shares the belief that the Office of Congressional Ethics is in need of reforms to strengthen shortcomings — identified by both Republicans and Democrats — regarding due process rights and the right to face your accuser," Shuckerow said. Lawmakers have complained about anonymous tips that can upend lawmakers' careers.

But Young wasn't involved in the vote or the House leadership's decision to drop the proposal before it came to a vote Tuesday afternoon, his spokesman said.

"Due to a delay in his flight to Washington, D.C., Congressman Young was unable to take part in this organizational meeting," Shuckerow said. Young wasn't the only one — 241 Republicans serve in the House of Representatives this term — making the vote 48 members short.

Young has had his own run-ins with the Office of Congressional Ethics, though the citizen-led commission was not the source of most of the congressman's past brushes with the House Committee on Ethics.

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The office was only created in March 2008 by then-House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, after a rash of corruption investigations.

Its interaction with Rep. Don Young came in 2011 — an investigation born of press-raised questions about the sources of funding for his legal defense fund.

The fund took on a dozen contributions — each at the $5,000 limit — from a variety of companies owned by Louisiana ship-builder Gary Chouest and his family members.

The Office of Congressional Ethics doesn't have subpoena power and it cannot sanction lawmakers. Its power largely stems from the ability to make investigations public in recommendations to the House Committee on Ethics.

The Ethics Committee did not sanction Young, finding instead that the donations followed the letter of the law — as his attorneys had advised at the time. The committee did change the rules in response, however. Contributions to defense funds were more limited going forward.