By Jim Kouri
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Ethics Committee has cleared a congressman who allegedly violated rules for exceeding individual contribution limits to finance his legal defense in a corruption scandal.
“In other words, this lawmaker violated House rules in his effort to defend himself in a bribery case involving Alaska’s ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ fiasco,” said political strategist Mike Baker.
Letting unscrupulous lawmakers off the hook is par for the course for the famously remiss ethics 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, according to the Judicial Watch blog that exposes government corruption and abuse.
As an example, Judicial Watch noted that this week the House Committee on Ethics cleared Alaskan 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 a legal defense fund of any congressman.
In order to sidestep the rule, Rep. Young collected $5,000 contributions from each of the 12 companies owned by a married couple and their five children.
The legal watchdog group revealed that Young needed the cash to fend off an influence peddling investigation that includes corrupt ties to an oil services company that bribed Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaskan member of the U.S. Senate 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. The bridge became a symbol of all that’s wrong with government “earmarks” that benefit individual lawmakers in their home states.
In absolving Young of wrongdoing, 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, the Ethics Committee ruled that 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 Judicial Watch blogger noted.
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, according to Judicial Watch’s blogger.
Special thanks to Judicial Watch’s Jill Farrell, director of public affairs, for her continued work and assistance in exposing government corruption.