WASHINGTON &mdash Old friends, along with fishing and construction-related companies, gave Alaska Rep. Don Young $54,000 to help pay legal expenses connected to a federal criminal probe, according to a disclosure form filed with the House of Representatives.
The fund, which is administered by a lawyer in Anchorage, was quick to spend the money it raised. It sent two $24,000 checks to Akin Gump, the Washington, D.C., law firm that is home to Young's lawyer, John Dowd. Since the probe began, the Alaska Republican has spent more than $1.08 million in campaign money or donations to the expense fund with Akin Gump.
His campaign has paid another $90,020 to John Wolfe, a Seattle attorney who is representing Young's campaign manager, Steve Dougherty. And the campaign has paid another Washington, D.C., law firm, Tobin, O'Connor and Ewing, $151,115 to review his campaign filings for compliance.
So far, Young's campaign has spent $1.3 million on lawyers, draining his account as he faces two Republican challengers in the Aug. 26 primary, one of the most challenging elections in his 35-year career as a congressman.
Young said during a debate Monday night in Anchorage that the legal defense has been expensive, and that he has used campaign money because he doesn't have money of his own to spend defending the inquiry.
He would not detail the exact nature of the investigation, but Congress has called on the Justice Department to investigate an earmark in Florida that stood to benefit a campaign contributor. Young also has been tied to federal probe into corruption in Alaska politics, which included the fundraising practices of the former oil-services company Veco Corp. and its chief executive, Bill Allen. Sen. Ted Stevens was indicted last week on charges he knowingly accepted gifts from Veco without reporting them on his financial disclosure forms.
"When the government decides to investigate you, it's my job to work with them, as I've done with my lawyers," Young said Monday night at the debate. "When this is all said and done, I believe you'll see that the investigation is not warranted; in fact I will be exonerated."
Young's chief of staff, Mike Anderson, said the congressman has no further comment on the legal expense fund. House ethics rules prohibit Anderson, who also serves as Young's campaign spokesman, from soliciting money for the legal expense fund or speaking about it.
Most of the money for the fund came from large fishing, shipping or construction companies based in Alaska or Seattle, including Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Boyer Towing Inc., Osborne Construction and Trident Seafoods, which each contributed $5,000.
Friends, including Jim Jansen of Lynden Transport and William Corbus, the former state revenue commissioner under Gov. Frank Murkowski, also made donations. Billy Lee Evans, a former Democratic congressman from Georgia, and his wife, Renetta, gave $2,000.
Many -- but not all -- of the contributors to the legal expense fund have also given to Young's campaign over the years. One of the biggest contributors to his past campaigns is the head of Trident Seafoods, Chuck Bundrant, who has donated $6,400 to Young's campaign since 2003, according to a database of campaign contributions kept by the Center for Responsive Politics. Bundrant's family has contributed another $4,000.
The company's general counsel, Joe Plesha, said Trident would not comment on its contribution to Young's legal fund.
Employees of Seattle-based Aleutian Spray Fisheries have donated $13,950 to Young's campaign over the past five years. The company and one of its subsidiaries, Starbound LLC, contributed a total of $10,000 to Young's legal fund. Company executives did not return phone calls.
Young set up the expense fund earlier this year to help pay for his legal expenses. The fund was established so that his campaign cash wouldn't have to go toward lawyers, but also so that he could tap a new source of donors, including people who had already given to his campaign.
The legal fund allows donors who have already contributed the maximum $4,600 allowed by law to contribute as much as $5,000 in additional money to the legal expense account. Lobbyists are barred from donating to it, and Young can't actively solicit contributions. But individuals who aren't lobbyists and corporations are allowed to give him money. Corporations are forbidden from donating directly to re-election campaigns, however.
Federal Election Commission guidelines allow public officials to spend their campaign money on attorneys, as long as the legal work is connected to the lawmaker's role as an officeholder.