The House Ethics Committee Investigation Of Rep.

Don Young Comes Up Short
Molly Danahy and Anne Weismann

In June, the House Ethics Committee closed a years-long investigation of Rep. Don Young (R-
AK) for violating federal law and House rules by using campaign funds for personal use,
accepting gifts, and filing inaccurate personal financial disclosure forms. The result of the
investigation was essentially a slap on the wrist: the Ethics Committee issued a letter of reproval
to Rep. Young, ordered him to re-pay his campaign committee and the entities that provided him
with gifts, and to edit his financial disclosure statements. At the same time, the Committee
commended him for his more recent efforts to not violate the law.

The Committee’s investigation into Rep. Young’s illegal behavior began, ostensibly, at the
instigation of Rep. Young himself who was facing a criminal investigation by the Department of
Justice Public Integrity Section and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Rep. Young threw
himself on the mercy of the Committee by self-reporting several potential violations – instances
where he 1) spent campaign funds for personal use or 2) accepted gifts, either impermissibly or
without reporting them as required by House Rules and by federal law.

In August of 2010, DOJ declined to prosecute Rep. Young, citing the lack of “evidence beyond a
reasonable doubt to ultimately convict [him],”
and referred the case for further action to the
Ethics Committee. CREW made a Freedom of Information Act request to DOJ and the FBI for
documents related to the investigation, to determine why Rep. Young was not charged. Over
two years later, after CREW successfully litigated the release of hundreds of documents and
made them available to the public, the Ethics Committee finally took action by forming an
investigative subcommittee to look into the allegations against the Congressman in March of last

Issued almost four years after DOJ and the FBI referred the case to the House Ethics Committee,
last month’s report confirmed years of reporting by CREW on Rep. Young’s unethical behavior.

In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, Report of the Investigative Subcommittee,
113th House of Congress, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics, 1-59, at 1, April 29, 2014.
Available at
(hereinafter Young FBI Documents), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Case ID # 58C-TP-70141, Corruption of
Federal Public Officials, Donald Edwin Young, et al., Memorandum Re: To close case, August 30, 2010 )Young
FBI Documents, at 173).
See Beyond DeLay: The 22 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and two to watch), available at corrupt/ entry/most-corrupt -report-2007, CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of
Congress: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and four to watch), available at corrupt/ entry/most-corrupt -2008, CREW’s Most Corrupt 2009: The 15 Most
The Committee found that Rep. Young, his wife, and his staff and took fifteen trips to hunting
resorts and lodges for which Rep. Young either improperly used campaign funds to cover
personal expenses, or where he impermissibly accepted or failed to report gifts.
The Committee
also identified several non-trip related gifts Rep. Young accepted that were either impermissible
or that he failed to report on his financial disclosure statements.

Unfortunately, these findings fall far short of the extensive evidence of corruption released by
DOJ and the FBI as a result of CREW’s FOIA request. Most significantly, the Committee
appears to have made no effort to investigate an incident known as the “Coconut Road” earmark,
a surreptitious edit to the transportation bill in 2005 that awarded $10 million dollars to a
highway project in Florida.
The original language in the bill created an earmark for the
widening of and improvements to I-75 in south Florida, but after the bill was passed, yet before
the president signed it, that language was deleted and the phrase “Coconut Rd. interchange I-
75/Lee County” was inserted.
The incident sparked the FBI’s investigation into Rep. Young as
early as 2007, and in 2008 Congress demanded an investigation as well. Facing increased public
scrutiny, Rep. Young admitted he had sponsored the earmark, and that his staff had changed the
language in the bill.

Local officials denied asking for the “Coconut Road” earmark, and even twice declined to accept
it given the suspicious circumstances around its appearance in the bill.
But hundreds of pages
of evidence, released to CREW by the FBI and the DOJ, point to the real beneficiaries of the
earmark – land developer Daniel Aronoff, who hosted a fundraiser for Rep. Young in Florida
that raised $40,000, mere months before the earmark was awarded.
In addition, the documents
show that an unidentified individual paid all of the expenses for the fundraiser, the individual
was not paid back until after the scandal broke, and the sum that was paid was far below the
actual costs of the event.
Despite the “vast amounts of evidence”
amassed by the FBI, DOJ
declined to press charges and handed over any further action to the House Ethics Committee,
which failed to even touch on these allegations in its investigation and final report on Rep.
Young’s ethics violations.

Corrupt Members of Congress 2009, available at -corrupt-
2009, CREW’s Most Corrupt 2012, available at ry/most-corrupt-
members-of-congress -report-2012, and CREW’s Most Corrupt 2013, available at corrupt/ entry/most-corrupt -members-of-congress-report -2013.
In the Matter of Allegations Relating to Representative Don Young, 113th House of Congress, U.S. House of
Representatives Committee on Ethics, 1-9 at 3, June 26, 2014.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2013, 100.
Id. at 101.
Julio Ochoa, MPO votes to move forward on Coconut Road,, June 15, 2007.
CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2013, at 100.
Id. at 101.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Case ID # 58C-TP-70141, Corruption of Federal Public Officials, Donald Edwin
Young, et al., December 1, 2008 Email Re: Young Status – Conference Call (Young FBI Documents, at 337); Letter
from Jack Smith, Chief, Public Integrity Section to Blake Chisam, Chief Counsel, House Committee on Standards of
Official Conduct, August 17, 2010 (Young FBI Documents, at 166-67).
Finally, outside of the improper campaign fund expenditures and gift violations detailed above,
the Ethics Committee investigation failed to look into any of the additional improper
appropriations of campaign funds by Rep. Young. CREW’s investigation found evidence that
cash advances were provided to Rep. Young and his wife by the campaign for use as per diems,
as well as evidence of use of campaign funds for personal expenses such as laundry, dry
cleaning, personal travel such as plane flights home, and personal mileage reimbursements.

None of these expenditures were mentioned in the committee report. Similarly, the committee
report failed to address evidence cited by CREW of improper gifts, such as jewelry, that were
given to Rep. Young’s wife.

Ultimately the House Ethics Committee expended little effort to investigate Rep. Young’s
activities outside of the small subset of violations he reported himself, and made no detailed
review of the mountains of evidence gathered in the course of the investigations by the FBI and
DOJ. Those instances where the Committee found Rep. Young violated the law earned him a
mere slap on the wrist, followed quickly by a pat on the back as a reassurance that his recent
effort to play by the rules had not gone unnoticed.

CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress 2013, at 102-103.
Id. at 104.

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