Highway Bill Took Young On Cross Country Fundraising Tour

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August 23, 2007 5:50 p.m.
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When developer Daniel Aronoff wanted an interchange built in Florida, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) came through — after Aronoff arranged a $40,000 fundraiser for him. But Florida wasn’t the only remote state where the Alaskan congressman proved popular in 2005. A massive transportation bill was making its way through Congress, and Young, as the chairman of the transportation committee, was in a powerful position.

In addition to Aronoff’s $40,000 in Florida, Young raised tens of thousands of dollars in Wisconsin, Arkansas, and New Jersey during the spring and summer of 2005 from residents and special interests eager to curry favor with the man who would preside over a $280 billion authorization bill.

In fact, Young proved much more popular with those outside his state during that time than with Alaskans. Young raised only $37,862 from Alaskans for his campaign and political action committees in the first six months of 2005 — that’s compared to $90,000 from Floridians, $22,000 from Wisconsinites, $174,000 from Arkansans, and $30,000 from New Jerseyans.

Below is our rundown of Young’s special tour of our great nation, and how the locals fared.

Florida
First and foremost, of course, is Young’s infamous $10 million Coconut Road earmark, one which Young inserted (changing the language after the bill passed Congress) against the wishes of local officials.

Following the typical Young-earmark pattern, a fundraiser arranged by part-time Naples resident and real estate developer Daniel Aronoff triggered the earmark, after netting $40,000 for Young’s campaign.

The project is unpopular in the area and local authorities have asked for permission to use the money for what was outlined by the original earmark before it was changed.

Wisconsin
In late May of 2005, businessman Dennis Troha, his family, and associates gave $22,000 to Young.

He had his reasons. Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported that Troha was angling to have truck hauling legislation included in the transportation bill that would benefit Troha’s trucking conglomerate. Troha got what he wanted (thanks also to Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Jim Oberstar (D-MN)), but has since been indicted. Earlier this summer, he pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Democrats and Republicans alike. He’s yet to be sentenced and faces a maximum of two years in prison.

Bice reports that Troha is currently cooperating with federal prosecutors as they probe the trucking deal. Young says that he’s never met Troha and didn’t know the rule change would benefit him.

Around the same time the US attorney’s office began looking into the contributions, Young retained Akin Gump for $25,000.Arkansas
Another state far from Young’s district – Arkansas – reaped $415 million in transportation earmarks just a few months after residents there gave generously to Young and his PAC.

The projects included $72 million to extend Interstate 530 starting in the town of Pine Bluff, where Arkansas natives contributed $66,000. “There were people from all over southeastern Arkansas,” an Arkansas Democrat told the Anchorage Daily News, adding that “any time a chairman of a major committee comes down here, we’re going to salute.”

The bill also tagged $35 million to widen the street leading to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville. Young collected $14,000 from Wal-Mart’s PAC and executives around the time the bill passed.

Just before the November 2006 mid-term elections, Young was asked what it would be like to serve as minority ranking member on the transportation committee. From the Anchorage Daily News:

“Now I can say this is for Alaska and not have to be worried about, you know, Arkansas,” said Young with a grin.

Unfortunately for Young, the demotion is likely to be bad news for his campaign funds.

New Jersey
On May 23, 2005, Young appeared at a lunch in New Jersey before a crowd of business, labor and government officials to discuss the bill and assure them that New Jersey was a vital transportation gateway to the entire country. They responded gratefully to the man who would “serve in the critically important position of Conference Committee chairman,” as a press release from the New Jersey Alliance for Action, which sponsored the lunch, put it. Young collected $29,500 in contributions.

The bill ultimately passed with 179 earmarks for New Jersey worth more than $550 million, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense; 32 of those earmarks, worth $186 million, were inserted during the bill’s conference. New Jersey lawmakers were happy with their haul.

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