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Alaska editorial: Young cleared, legally

Posted: December 22, 2011 - 1:05am

This editorial originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

The House Ethics Committee has ruled that Alaska Rep. Don Young didn’t violate the law in accepting 12 checks totaling $60,000 for his legal defense fund from 12 businesses owned by one family. As the committee pointed out, the companies are technically 12 separate entities in Louisiana, but they represent exactly one political interest.

The committee further said that it didn’t believe Rep. Young intended to violate the spirit of the law, and noted that he checked with his legal defense fund trustee to see if he could accept such donations. (Is this the most naïve committee in American politics?)

The committee also said it never wants this to happen again.

Gary Chouest, an oil field services and shipbuilding magnate whose family has contributed money to all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, presented Young with the $60,000 at a fundraiser in Texas.

If this isn’t an example of using the letter of the law against the spirit, we don’t know what is.

Rep. Young consistently has refused to discuss any of his legal issues, which most Alaskans probably figured were over earlier this year when the Department of Justice said it was ending its investigation of Young without charges. But the congressman raised more than $1 million for his legal defense, much of it from contributors who presumably hope to gain by his continued presence in Congress. Now the ethics committee has changed the rules so the $5,000 contribution limit will apply not to legally separate companies but to their owners. In other words, we wouldn’t see another contribution of 60 grand from one family sliced a dozen ways for legal cover. Good idea.

Rep. Young says he’s satisfied that the committee dismissed the allegations against him. But this contribution is another example of big money in politics that leaves many Alaskans and other Americans deeply unsatisfied. Gridlock and vitriol aren’t the only reasons Congress earns single-digit approval ratings from the American people. Contributions like this one do nothing to restore trust. Too many of our elected officials don’t seem to care. And that includes Don Young.

The contribution may have been legal; that doesn’t make it good.

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