The House Ethics Committee has forced Rep. Don Young to pay back more than $59,000 in improper gifts including private flights, golf outings and even Le Chameau boots.
That’s the only punishment that came out of a years-long investigation into the 81-year-old Republican congressman, who has represented Alaska since 1973 and was found to have received 19 unethical gifts between 2001 and 2013 from a variety of donors.
The lack of a more severe punishment has outraged good-government advocates.
“Rep. Young violated congressional ethics rules and federal laws for over a decade in misusing campaign funds, accepting free gifts from special interest who wanted something in return – gifts ranging from luxurious travel junkets to Le Chameau boots – and then failing to report many of those gifts,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen. “These are egregious violations of the public trust, violations that should have spurred the ethics committee and the Department of Justice into looking at what Young may have exchanged for these gifts.”
Air travel appears to have been Young’s preferred form of improper gifts. He accepted well over $20,000 in flights — many of them on private aircrafts — and thousands of dollars more in meals, lodging, golf excursions, and hunting expenses. The most expensive gift he accepted was $11,500 from former Halliburton subsidiary KBR for air travel, meals, lodging and hunting at the Mariposa Ranch in Texas.
Young, who was previously under FBI investigation for years, ultimately got off with a mere slap on the wrist — a public letter of admonishment, which is the second-least severe punishment the Ethics Committee can dole out; the least severe is a private letter of reproval, Holman said.
Brett Kappel, a Washington-based attorney familiar with campaign finance laws, said the ethics panel could have sought a variety of more meaningful sanctions, such as censure or forcing him to pay the House for the cost of the probe, if not something harsher.
“It should also be noted that more than a dozen Hill staffers received criminal convictions for violating the Ethics in Government for failing to disclose gifts from Jack Abramoff, but Rep. Young gets a letter in his permanent file for the same thing. Is there a double standard for staff and Members?” Kappel said. “Or did this investigation just take so long that it wasn’t possible to mount a viable prosecution?”