Panel: Alaska's Don Young violated US House ethics
By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- The House Ethics Committee has found that U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska violated House rules by using campaign funds for personal trips and accepting improper gifts.
The committee called on the Republican to repay the value of the trips and gifts, totaling about $59,000, to his campaign and the donors, and to amend his financial disclosure statements to include gifts he had not reported. The committee also issued a "letter of reproval," or rebuke.
Young, who is the longest serving Republican in the House, said in a statement that he accepted the report and regretted the "oversights."
"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.
Young said he has made the recommended payments and taken steps to strengthen his office's policies since rules changes went into effect in 2007. "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," he said. Young's attorney said by email that the financial reports were still being worked on.
But the committee said Young's more recent efforts at compliance, "while commendable," did not overcome the need for a rebuke, given that some of the violations occurred after 2007 and were only brought to its attention after the Department of Justice had started investigating.
The matter dates to 2010, when Young requested the committee review certain gifts he had received. He said Justice was also investigating the trips, but he considered the committee to be the proper entity for determining the propriety of the gifts he had accepted, according to a report from a special investigative panel formed last year to look into the matter. The report was among the information released by the committee Friday.
The special panel was charged with investigating whether Young had failed to report gifts on disclosure forms, misused campaign funds and lied to federal officials. It found no basis to conclude that Young had knowingly made any false statements to government officials. It also "did not find substantial reason to believe that Representative Young acted corruptly or in bad faith when he accepted any of these improper expenses," according to its report, dated April 29.
But the special panel - whose findings were adopted by the Ethics committee - found that Young was careless and should have known better in a number of the cases.
The Ethics committee said that between 2001 and 2013, Young accepted gifts and expenses for 15 of the 25 hunting trips reviewed by the special committee that were not permissible, as well as non-trip gifts.
The committee said for seven of the 15 trips, only some of the expenses, like air travel provided by friends but not previously cleared by the committee, were improper, while the rest fell under exemptions to House gift rules. For the other eight trips, all expenses associated with travel were improper gifts or improper personal use of campaign funds, the committee said.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, scoffed at the "non-penalty" issued by the committee.
"Just when you think the Ethics Committee can't do anything more embarrassing, it does," she said in a statement. "No wonder Congress has a lower approval rating than cockroaches."