The House Ethics Committee announced today that it had unanimously concluded Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) did not violate any law, rule or regulation when his legal defense fund accepted donations from a dozen corporations owned and operated by the same group of related individuals.
Because Young complied with the letter of the law when his legal trust accepted 12 $5,000 donations from separate Louisiana limited liability corporations owned by an individual named Gary Chouest, his wife and his five children, the committee rejected the independent Office of Congressional Ethics’ conclusion that the contributions had come from a single source and exceeded annual contribution limits.
The committee noted, however, that it would revise the wording of rules governing legal trusts going forward.
“To prevent this situation in the future the Committee is amending the [legal expense fund] regulations to attribute contributions by certain types of entities, such as LLCs, to the owners of those entities,” the committee’s report said.
The new rules will take effect Jan. 1 and will apply to existing and future legal trust accounts.
Young, who has dealt with investigations by the Department of Justice, the Ethics Committee and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that date back to at least 2007, lauded the committee’s actions in a statement.
“I am pleased that the Ethics Committee confirmed what I have maintained all along — I did nothing to violate House rules. I am glad the inquiry has been completed,” Young said today.
Young set up the legal defense fund in December 2007 to pay for legal fees related to a Justice Department inquiry into whether he had accepted bribes from a constituent company and inserted a lucrative earmark into a transportation bill that benefited a campaign contributor. In August 2010 his office announced that the Department of Justice had declined to prosecute the matter in court.
A Roll Call story in May highlighted $60,000 that Young’s trust had received from corporate entities linked to Chouest. In June, the OCE commenced a preliminary review of allegations that the donations exceeded maximum contribution limits and referred its report on the matter to the Ethics Committee in October.
Young in July asked the Ethics Committee to clarify whether multiple companies owned by the same individual could donate to his legal defense fund and provided a written statement to the OCE related to the 12 contributions explaining that he had asked the committee for guidance.
“Because Representative Young did appear to inquire of the nature of the entities and their permissibility, the Committee does not believe a violation of House Rule[s] may be found, as it does not appear Rep. Young himself intended to violate the spirit of the 1996 LEF regulations,” the committee’s report said. “However, the Committee is concerned that the identical ownership of the twelve entities challenges the principles of the contribution limits of the 1996 LEF Regulations.”
When the Ethics Committee announced in late November that it was reviewing Young’s case, it also confirmed that it was looking into possible ethics violations committed by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D), which are believed to be related to a lawsuit filed in March that accused the Florida lawmaker of unwelcome sexual advances and subsequent retaliation against a staffer when he chaired the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The committee now has until Jan. 11 to decide whether it will empanel a subcommittee to formally investigate the allegations against Hastings. At that point, if a subcommittee is not formed, the contents of the OCE report will be released.