They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker
Young is a veteran when it comes to this kind of thing. In 2007, the FBI and U.S. Attorneys' Office in Florida opened a public corruption investigation into the Alaska lawmaker. The following year, Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate Young's role in a $10 million earmark benefitting one of his campaign contributors. The earmark had been added to a 2006 transportation bill after both the House and Senate had voted on it. That investigation stretched on for three years, but ended with no charges filed.
In its announcement Tuesday, the Ethics Committee said it had received a referral from the Justice Department about expenses and travel costs for certain trips Young had taken which, the committee said, "were the subject of the Committee's ongoing review."
While the committee didn't go into specifics about the investigation, the allegations -- gifts, misused funds -- rang bells to people at the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Last year, a court order forced the Justice Department to give CREW documents related to the FBI's investigation of Young. Asked on Tuesday if the Ethics Committee investigation made public today sounds related to the case detailed in the FBI files, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan told TPM it "sounds exactly like it."
"It was pretty clear," Sloan said. "The documents clearly indicated that Mr. Young had been using campaign resources for personal use."
In May 2012, CREW published a report on what it had found in the hundreds of pages of investigative files it had received.
"Even with redactions, [the] documents tell a remarkable story of greed and corruption," the report stated. "They also reveal what we have suspected for a long time - DOJ's Public Integrity Section killed the Young prosecution because it did not have 100% confidence it could get a conviction."
According to CREW, the documents detailed how Young and his late wife, Lu Young, used Young's campaign account as a "personal piggy bank" to pay for travel, restaurants, laundry, and dry cleaning. Lu Young died in 2009. Among the documents, CREW found a draft indictment charging Young with Honest Services Fraud, stating that Young had "accepted and expected things of value (trips, meals, golf, etc.) from lobbyists, and in exchange, he would provide them with official actions (meetings, letters, legislation)." But the investigation eventually fizzled out. An FBI memo dated August 30, 2010 stated that it had been "determined that there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ultimately convict Congressman Young."
"Instead," the memo went on, "the FBI has forwarded a letter outlining certain actions taken by Congressman Young and will leave punishment to the discretion of the Ethics Commission."
So is Sloan surprised that the case is now getting attention from the Ethics Committee?
"What's more surprising to me is that Don Young has skated by for so many years," she said.
A spokesman for Young declined to comment on whether the Ethics Committee investigation was related to the federal investigation that ended in 2010.
"Congressman Young has cooperated with the committee, and will continue to do so," Mike Anderson, Young's press secretary, told TPM.