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Ethics case against Young dismissed

Posted: December 21, 2011 - 12:03am

JUNEAU — Contributions made to Rep. Don Young’s legal defense fund were permissible but challenged the “principle” of contribution limits, the U.S. House Ethics Committee concluded Tuesday.

The nonpartisan Office of Congressional Ethics had asked the committee to review the case after its board found substantial reason to believe Young, R-Alaska, accepted contributions exceeding the $5,000 limit for any individual or organization for a calendar year.

The board’s report released Tuesday found that 12 entities related to Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore LLC gave $5,000 each to Young, for a total of $60,000, in the first quarter of this year. That is roughly two-thirds of the $92,000 total raised for the quarter, according to the report.

The board found the corporations were owned or operated by the same group of individuals. Edison Chouest Offshore President Gary Chouest and members of his family have been donors to Young’s campaign.

“Several factors indicate that the $60,000 in contribution checks for Representative Young’s legal expense fund from the ECO entities were from a single source, subject to a single contribution limit,” the board’s report states.

Chouest offered to raise money for Young’s defense fund, and later delivered contribution checks from the 12 entities at the same time, it states.

The Ethics Committee agreed the 12 companies were owned by Chouest, his wife, his children or some combination of those. But it also noted that each company is a distinct legal entity, registered separately with the Louisiana secretary of state. Therefore it found the contributions were “clearly permitted” by regulations.

“However, the committee is concerned that the identical ownership of the 12 entities challenges the principles of the contribution limits” set out in the regulations, Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said in a statement.

Bonner and Sanchez said the committee, in response, had revised the regulations concerning legal expense funds to attribute contributions to entities such as limited liability companies to the owners of those entities, among other changes. The revised rules take effect Jan. 1.

Young said he’s glad the inquiry is over. In a July letter to Bonner, Young said it was the fund trustee’s opinion that each of the 12 could legally donate if they were all separate legal entities operating with separate financial records. He added that he believed the trustee used her best legal judgment since the specific issue isn’t addressed by contribution rules.

He separately told the Office of Congressional Ethics that the trustee would return any funds that the Ethics Committee determines to be in violation of the contribution limit.

“I am pleased that the Ethics Committee confirmed what I have maintained all along — I did nothing to violate House rules,” Young said in a statement.

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