DECEMBER 21, 2011
Living up to its reputation as a big joke, the House Ethics Committee has cleared a congressman who violated rules for exceeding individual contribution limits to finance his legal defense in a corruption scandal.
Letting unscrupulous lawmakers off the hook is par for the course for the famously remiss panel charged with investigating corrupt members. Instead it prematurely dismisses cases or simply conducts sham probes that usually end in absolution. After all, the investigators are the friends and colleagues of the scrutinized subjects and often they’re financial beneficiaries.
Case in point; this week the Committee on Ethics cleared Alaska Republican Don Young for taking $60,000 in contributions from members of one Louisiana family for his legal defense fund. Under House rules for legal expense accounts no individual may contribute more than $5,000. To work around the rule, Young took $5,000 contributions from each of the 12 companies owned by a married couple and their five children.
A 2008 Judicial Watch Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians honoree, Young needed the cash to fend off an influence peddling investigation that includes corrupt ties to an oil services company that bribed Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican senator convicted of multiple felonies a few years ago. Young also tried to push through the $200 million “Bridge to Nowhere” that was supposed to connect the town of Ketchikan, Alaska (pop. 8,900) to the island of Gravina (pop. 50) at a cost of $320 million to taxpayers.
In absolving Young the Ethics Committee acknowledges that the 12 companies that contributed to his legal expense trust were in fact owned by the same individuals but pointed out that each company has a “distinct legal entity.” Therefore Young did not violate any provision of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct with respect to the receipt of these contributions, the committee said in a statement.
This doesn’t mean the committee isn’t “concerned that the identical ownership of the twelve entities challenges principles of the contribution limits,” the ethics panel goes on to say in its statement. To that end, the committee has adopted “revised” regulations that clarify contributions by certain types of companies and their owners in the future. The new rules will become effective in 2012 and will apply to all existing and new legal expense trusts.
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