Ethics plaint filed against Murkowski

Federal law enforcement official confirms Rep. Young is under criminal investigation

Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007

JUNEAU - A complaint against U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was filed with the Senate ethics committee on Wednesday, the same day a federal law enforcement official confirmed that U.S. Rep. Don Young was under a criminal investigation.

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The complaint against Murkowski involves an alleged sweetheart deal the Alaska Republican received when buying a piece of prime land along the scenic Kenai River southwest of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula.

She paid $179,400 to longtime friend Bob Penney for the vacant land area real estate agents said could have fetched as much as $350,000.

On Wednesday, the National League and Policy Center filed a 25-page complaint with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, requesting an investigation.

"I moved forward because the sale price was so out of whack with apparent market value," center chairman Ken Boehm said. "If it was a few thousand, then it wouldn't be an issue."

Murkowski's office declined to comment Wednesday but scheduled a news conference for today.

Penney, who lives two lots from the tract he sold to Murkowski and owns the land in between, has said he considers the price fair for a welcome neighbor.

Also on Wednesday, it was confirmed that Young had become the second member of Alaska's three-member, all Republican delegation to come under scrutiny for a corruption probe that traces back to the state and involves the Anchorage-based oil field services company, VECO Corp.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens had already acknowledged he has been told by the FBI to preserve records of a house remodeling project involving VECO.

Part of the Young probe involves his campaign finance practices, an element that would be investigated in Washington, the law enforcement official told The Associated Press, commenting only on condition of anonymity.

The investigation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Former VECO CEO Bill Allen held fundraisers called "the Pig Roast" for Young every August for 10 years. Public records show Young received $157,000 from VECO's employees and its political action committee between 1996 and 2006, the Journal reported.

Young amended campaign-finance filings earlier this year to reflect $38,000 in payments to Allen, which the newspaper said had not been previously reported. The refunds were labeled "fundraising costs" in documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Young's campaign recently reported that he had spent more than a quarter million dollars in legal fees since putting a Washington law firm on retainer, but his campaign officials wouldn't say why.

Young's spokeswoman Meredith Kenny said his office would not discuss the investigation, saying things are moving along as usual.

"We don't have a comment right now," she said. "There is a lot going on that unfortunately is being overshadowed by all of these stories. We are going to do the work we need to do."

Young also has been criticized for relationships with several executives and for earmark funding beyond the so-called "bridge to nowhere" in Ketchikan.

Among them is a $10 million appropriation for a road project in Florida that would benefit a developer who helped raise $40,000 in campaign money.

Young and Stevens have been in office for decades, holding influential congressional posts when their party has been in power. Young, 74 and Alaska's sole representative in the House, was first elected in a special election in 1973. Stevens, 83, has been in office since 1968 and is the longest serving Republican in Senate history. Both are running for re-election in 2008.

Because of their seniority, the two have long been able to secure millions of dollars in federal funding for roads, education and assistance to rural areas seeking basic services such as running water and electricity in Alaska. However, their power diminished when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in 2006.

As Alaska's federal lawmakers continue to face criminal and ethical scrutiny, some analysts wonder if the latest development with Young isn't a tightening of the noose around the state's dominant party.

"The more unsavory this becomes, more people will want to seek a change, especially if they can't deliver the goods to the state of Alaska anymore," said David King, political science professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"It's going to be harder for Young than Stevens," King said. "That's because in the House it's not helpful to be in the minority party. If there are any shady dealings, and you're currently not in power, it's harder to deliver for your state."

Troubles for Alaska's Republican lawmakers run deeper than the congressional delegation. State Republican lawmakers also have their problems.

Four Republicans - or 10 percent of the membership of the 2006 state House - have been convicted of or face federal bribery charges. One former lawmaker was recently found guilty by a federal jury. Three former state representatives await trial on separate bribery and extortion charges in connection with their relationship with two VECO executives who have already pleaded guilty.

• Associated Press writer Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.

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