Politics

06.20.14

Alaska Republican Hand-Slapped for Improper Hunting Lodge Trips

In what a watchdog group is calling a ‘non-penalty,’ the House Ethics Committee is ordering Rep. Don Young to repay $60,000 in misused campaign funds and personal gifts.

The hunter became the target Friday as the longest-serving Republican in the House was reprimanded by the body’s ethics committee for improperly financing 15 trips to hunting lodges—to the tune of some $60,000.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, who is serving his 21st term in the House, violated ethics rules and the law by using campaign funds for personal purposes in some cases and accepting improper personal gifts in others, the House Ethics Committee concluded in a report.

Over 15 trips to hunting lodges between 2001 and 2013, Young spent more than $30,000 in funds from his campaign committee, Alaskans for Don Young, for personal purposes, in violation of House rules. He also received the equivalent of more than $28,000 in gifts from 10 private individuals and companies, and failed to reveal the gifts in required annual financial disclosure documents.

Lawmakers are not allowed to use campaign funds for personal use, are limited in the kinds of gifts they can receive, and must disclose all gifts.

On eight of the trips, all expenses to the hunting lodges were either improper use of campaign funds or impermissible gifts. On the remaining seven, only some of the expenses were considered by the House Ethics Committee to be improper.

“These kinds of ethical violations are the reason Don Young will never again chair a full committee, assume a leadership post, or be an effective representative for Alaska.”

“Young had violated House rules and other laws, rules and standards of conduct with respect to his use of campaign funds for personal purposes, his acceptance of improper gifts, and his failure to report certain gifts on his Financial Disclosure Statements,” the House Ethics Committee said in its report, released Friday.

Young must repay $59,063.74 to his campaign committee and individuals or companies that provided him with gifts, the committee said. On Friday, Young said he had already made the requested repayments and apologized for his actions.

“I accept the House Committee on Ethics’ report and regret 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,” Young said, adding that he had taken steps to ensure that such “oversights” do not occur again.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog organization, criticized the committee for meting out what it called a “non-penalty” to Young.

“The Ethics Committee found Rep. Young violated federal law and House rules by using campaign funds for personal use, by accepting gifts, and by filing inaccurate personal financial disclosure reports, but did nothing other than issue a letter saying, in effect, ‘bad congressman,’” said Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the group. “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.”

The Democrat running against Young for Alaska’s at-large seat was quick to add that the congressman’s latest ethical lapse—he has faced federal and Ethics Committee investigations for seven years—damaged his credibility.

“These kinds of ethical violations are the reason Don Young will never again chair a full committee, assume a leadership post, or be an effective representative for Alaska,” said candidate Forrest Dunbar in a statement.

Dunbar acknowledged in an interview with The Daily Beast that Young had been an effective representative in the past and that the congressman had “a well of goodwill from the decade when he was effective,” but said those days are over.

“Unfortunately, he’s been coasting on those accomplishments,” Dunbar said.