WASHINGTON - With an election-year corruption investigation looming, Rep. Don Young has tapped his campaign war chest to pay not only his own million-dollar legal tab but also to hire lawyers for his campaign manager, who is also under FBI scrutiny.
The Alaska Republican spent more than $35,000 between October 2007 and April on lawyers for longtime campaign manager Steven Dougherty. That's more than Dougherty himself earned during that period and nearly as much as the campaign spent on political polling, according to campaign finance reports.
The payments - which are legal under federal law as long as they are associated with the candidate's official duties - are another indication of how the FBI investigation has become a drag on the congressman. Instead of coasting to a 19th term, Young is shelling out money to pay his bills and Dougherty's even as he faces a well-funded opponent in August's Republican primary, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell.
"With respect to people who have served him and been loyal to him and who have served Alaska, he's been loyal back," said Young's campaign spokesman, Mike Anderson.
Dougherty has worked for Young's campaigns since 1996 and became campaign manager in 2000. Employers may pay legal bills for their employees during criminal investigations as long as there aren't competing interests - if Dougherty wanted to cooperate with authorities investigating his boss, for instance.
Young and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens are under scrutiny for their relationship with VECO Corp. executives, who have admitted bribing Alaska lawmakers to push legislation favorable to their oil field services company. VECO executives were, until recently, Young's largest contributor and hosted an annual pig roast fundraiser for him.
Like Young and Stevens, Dougherty's telephone conversations were taped by the FBI as part of a sting operation involving the VECO executives, according to people close to the corruption case. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
"I am not going to comment on Congressman Young's investigation or anybody else's," Dougherty said. "Congressman Young has made it totally clear we're not going to discuss the investigation."
Neither Young nor Stevens has been charged and both deny wrongdoing in the case that has upended Alaska politics.
Young has spent more than $1 million in campaign contributions on legal fees. He is represented by the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld. His campaign finance reports also show $35,020 in fees to John W. Wolfe, a prominent Seattle white-collar defense attorney who represents Dougherty as well as Stevens' son, Ben.
The campaign has also paid about $196,000 since October to Tobin, O'Connor and Ewing, a Washington law firm, though it's unclear whom the firm represents.
Legal fees tend to rise and fall with the normal flow of an investigation, so it would be unusual to see that spending pace continue when the next batch of campaign finance reports come out later this month. Anderson would not discuss exactly what those reports will show.
When the last disclosure reports were released in April, Young released a statement on the fees.
"I have learned that the legal process is an expensive process, but I have nothing to hide," he said. "When it comes to my family and my character, the truth is priceless. That is exactly why I hired good legal counsel, and I have worked fully with the Department of Justice by answering their questions and providing them with anything they have requested."
Young, who has served in Congress since 1973, is facing Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in August's primary. Parnell has the backing of the popular Gov. Sarah Palin. Young has also seen Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz raise twice as much money as him during the first quarter, though the incumbent retains the financial advantage. Such a challenge would have been unheard of before the FBI investigation.
The FBI is investigating Young's fundraising practices. The campaign tried last year to reimburse former VECO president Bill Allen $37,626 for years of expenses associated the annual pig roast fundraiser. When the check was never cashed, the campaign sent the money to the U.S. Treasury.
Authorities are also investigating an unrelated earmark for a Florida highway interchange sought by a developer who gave Young campaign contributions.
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