House Ethics Committee Admonishes Rep. Don Young

The Alaska Republican was formally reprimanded Friday for accepting gifts and trips.

National Journal
Billy House
June 20, 2014, 9:10 a.m.

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.

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