Rep. Don Young has been issued a formal letter of reproval — a public rebuke — from the House Ethics Committee for misconduct tied to his acceptance of impermissible gifts and trips and his misuse of campaign funds, the panel announced Friday.
The action represents the least severe of a range of punishments that the committee could have taken against Young — including a formal reprimand or censure from the full House of Representatives, or even expulsion from the House.
"I accept the House Committee on Ethics' report and regret the oversights it has identified," Young said in a statement Friday. "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. As the Committee indicates in its report, I never 'made any knowingly false statements to government officials' nor did I act 'corruptly or in bad faith."
The committee's found that between 2001 and 2013, Young improperly used campaign funds and accepted donor gifts tied to 15 hunting trips and other activities — a total value of about $59,063.
Young was also found to not have reported certain gifts on his annual financial-disclosure statements. Young, 81, is now the longest-serving Republican in the House (he first came to the chamber in 1973).
An accompanying report on the matter released Friday by the committee says Young has already expressed regret and accepted responsibility.
In addition, the report says Young has repaid the value of impermissible gifts — $30,936 to his main campaign committee, and $28,127 to 10 private individuals or companies. The report shows that the gifts ranged from air travel, to lodging and meals, to golf outings, car rental, and even a pair of Le Chameau boots.
"I have made each of the payments recommended by the Committee and have taken significant steps since 2007 to strengthen my office's policies for compliance with the Code of Conduct to ensure that these types of oversights do not happen again," Young said in his Friday statement. "It is through these actions that I show my colleagues and Alaskans that I fully respect the House Rules and will continue to comply with them now and in the future."
The committee says it recognizes the steps Young has taken to be in compliance. But Young's regret and his efforts at compliance, it says, "do not overcome the need for a letter of reproval."
"Accordingly, based on your conduct in this matter, the committee has unanimously determined that you should be publicly reproved," states the letter dated June 18 to Young from Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas and ranking member Linda Sanchez of Alaska.
One outside government watch group was clearly unimpressed with the Ethics Committee's decision not to go further, calling it a "non-penalty."
"Not exactly the sort of strong action that will send shivers down the spines of corrupt lawmakers anywhere," Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement.
"As if the non-penalty weren't ridiculous enough, the committee laughably 'commended' Rep. Young for his recent efforts at complying with the rules ... only members of Congress could be so blind to the wrongdoing of one of their own. Just when you think the Ethics Committee can't do anything more embarrassing, it does. No wonder Congress has a lower approval rating than cockroaches," said Sloan.
The investigation dates from April 23, 2010, when Young himself asked the committee to look at certain gifts he had received that the Justice Department was then reviewing.
Later that year, in August, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Ethics Committee indicating it had investigated the gifts and was referring the matter to the panel. After about two years of delays that the committee acknowledges was, in part, caused by itself — as well as disputes with both Young and the Justice Department regarding legal discovery of information in their possession — the committee eventually appointed a special investigative subcommittee in the matter.
That subcommittee ultimately interviewed 16 witness, including a former Young chief of staff, former campaign manager, and other staffers, as well as other individuals who were participants on some of the trips. In all, the subcommittee issued 20 subpoenas.
The subcommittee vote April 29 to issue its report to the full committee. Its report said that Young had violated House rules and other laws, as well as standards of conduct. The subcommittee recommended the committee issue a letter of reproval, require Young to repay the costs of the impermissible trips and gifts, and amend his financial-disclosure statements.
But the subcommittee said it did not believe that a sanction requiring action by the full House was warranted.