The House Ethics Committee said Friday that Rep. Don Young violated Congressional rules by improperly accepting nearly $60,000 in hunting trips, rides on private planes and other gifts and failing to report them on his financial disclosure forms.
The gifts date back to 2001, when Young stayed at the ranch of Bob Malone, the former Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. president and top BP official in the United States, and improperly accepted a private-plane from Malone worth $3,000. They continued through 2013, when Young accepted $138 in lodging and meals from the Associated General Contractors of Texas, according to the House Ethics Committee.
In between, the Committee's Internal Subcommittee found, Young had more than 17 separate violations of House rules: from accepting a $434 pair of cowboy boots in 2005 made by the French bootmaker Le Chameau, to two $10,000 visits to the Mariposa game ranch in south Texas, one paid by the big government contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root in 2006, the other by the pipeline builder Willbros in 2007.
According to a letter of rebuke by the committee, Young told the committee on June 2 that he has repaid nearly $31,000 to his campaign account for fronting the money on some of the trips, and returned another $28,000 to individuals and companies that directly paid his way or provided the gifts.
The committee noted that Young accepted even more in benefits than the $59,064 it listed, but those were allowed under exceptions to the House gift rule.
In a media statement, Young described his failures to follow the rules as "oversights" and apologized.
The rebuke of Young, Alaska's long-serving Republican congressman, was contained in a June 18 "letter of reproval" signed by the Republican chairman and Democratic ranking member of the House Ethics Committee. The two said the decision of the committee in approving its report on Young was unanimous.
The letter appeared to close out a long-running investigation of Young stemming from the FBI's investigation of corruption in Alaska politics.
The nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has been tracking investigations of Young for years, criticized the ruling as a "non-penalty" that was too mild given Young's confirmed misdeeds.
"It's even more minor than a slap on the wrist," said Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director. "It says a lot about the Ethics Committee and how completely pathetic it is, and why Americans have so little faith in Congress. Americans believe the members of Congress are out for themselves and that other members cover for them, and this just proves it."
In his prepared statement, Young said he was sorry and accepted the committee report, regretting "the oversights it has identified."
"There were a number of instances where I failed to exercise due care in complying with the House's Code of Conduct, and for that I apologize," he said in his statement. But Young denied acting corruptly or in bad faith.
"I am pleased that today's decision represents the conclusion of an extended inquiry by both the Department of Justice and the House Committee on Ethics and I will continue to faithfully serve the people of Alaska," Young said. Asked whether Young would grant an interview about the report, his spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, referred the matter to Young's attorney, who didn't respond. Neither answered questions.
Forrest Dunbar, the leading Democratic contender for Young's seat, said from a car on the way to solstice events in Fairbanks that he was hoping to hear Young defend himself.
"I'm looking forward to Don answering the questions about where exactly that money came from, why he felt it was OK to take it, and what exactly those donors got in return," Dunbar said. "This all comes from his sense of entitlement to that seat. He sees that seat as his personal property, not Alaska's seat. Alaskans have to hold him accountable and ask these questions."
Young, 81, is in his 20th full term as Alaska's sole Representative. Dunbar, 29, said Alaskans may have had reason to accept Young's behavior when he had clout, but he's been shunted aside since getting caught up in the Alaska corruption investigation that surfaced in 2006.
Young is the senior House Republican yet has no committee chairmanship or leadership position, Dunbar said.
Sloan, the CREW director and a former prosecutor, said Young should have been prosecuted criminally for what he did, but the Justice Department appears to have lost its nerve after its failed prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens. A jury found Stevens guilty in 2008 of failing to disclose gifts including a house remodel, but the charges were dismissed when the the Justice Department admitted it failed to turn over relevant information to the defense.
"Ever since the Stevens debacle, they have avoided members in Congress like the plague, and Don Young is just the latest example," Sloan said. "So what — prosecutors are just going to fold their tents and go home? Then why have a public integrity section? You ought to be wearing your big-boy pants and do your job, and if you can't do it, go find somebody else — there are other people who can do it."
According to the Ethics Committee's report, three of the trips were to Savannah Dhu, an upscale private game and fishing preserve in central New York that features hunting for elk and introduced wild boar. The event was hosted by shopping mall developer Robert Congel every November from 2004 to 2006.
The guest list for the 2005 event including the disgraced chairman of the defunct oil-field service company Veco, Bill Allen, his son Mark, Veco official Roger Chan and his wife Claire, retired Air Force Gen. Joe Ralston, and then Conoco Phillips Alaska President Jim Bowles, who died snowmachining in Alaska in 2010. Bill Allen was the central figure in the Alaska corruption scandal and was the chief witness against Stevens in 2008 after pleading guilty to corruption charges himself. An email in the House investigative file said the guests were expected to pay for themselves.
According to the investigative file, Young made other trips to Savannah Dhu that didn't include gifts in violation of House rules. For his visit in October 2003, Young and his wife, Lu, flew from Washington, D.C., to Syracuse, N.Y., on a private jet. Among their lodging requirements, according to the documents: a smoking room with king-size bed, a bottle of wine (Ferrari Cerano Chardonnay), a cheese and cracker plate, fruits, a 6-pack of ginger ale and a 6-pack of Dasani bottled water.
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.