Politics & Government

Survival guide shows how one congressman's office worked

During his six years as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,  Alaskan Congressman Don Young dramatically escalated the controversial practice of "earmarking," which sets aside federal money for pet projects.
During his six years as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Alaskan Congressman Don Young dramatically escalated the controversial practice of "earmarking," which sets aside federal money for pet projects. Bob Hallinen / Anchorage Daily News

What's it like to be working in Rep. Don Young's office when an "A Team" lobbyist calls? What about when you sneeze in the presence of Young's wife, Lu? Or what to expect if you show up with that new nose ring and a hangover from the night before?

"The 2111: An Intern's Survival Guide,” surfaced earlier this week with two pages of advice, suggestions and etiquette for college-age youth on temporary duty with Alaska’s sole Representative. The number in the title refers to Room 2111 of the Rayburn House Office Building, Young's official office.

Among the survival skills: any of the nine "A Team" lobbyists — a group that includes Coconut Road lobbyist Rick Alcalde and the brother of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay — "can talk to whomever they want."

Not even other congressmen, "Government people" or Alaska constituents get that kind of treatment. Congressmen and officials are supposed to be directed to Chief of Staff Mike Anderson or his then deputy, Sara Parsons. For "other people," it's the staff.

And the sneeze? Never admit you're sick. Tell "Mrs. Y" it's allergies or "pressure changes."

As for "The Boss," he does not like facial piercings or, for that matter, seeing people with their hands in their pockets. He expects having doors opened for him even when he gives no indication of which door he's about to go through. And when Young calls, he never identifies himself, yet expects to be put straight through to the staffer he wants, the guide says. "You will not get this right, there is no way."

It's important to be punctual but you can be late as long as you call your supervisor, who will understand because "she's had hangovers too."

The two-page tip sheet was distributed to a dozen media outlets by Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense , an organization that has opposed the Alaska delegation's spending practices, especially earmarks. Ashdown said he obtained the document from a man who applied to be an intern for Young in 2007.

Ashdown said he didn't know if the man got the internship, but said he was interviewed over dinner with Don and Lu Young, and got the survival guide from an official in Young's office. Ashdown wouldn't identify the applicant, except to say he now works as a staffer in another Congressional office that supports the agenda of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Meredith Kenny, spokeswoman for Young, said the document was real but not official policy.

"This incredibly outdated 'survival guide' was pieced together by several former interns and not by staff," Kenny said in a prepared statement. "It's always interesting to see how students view their intern experience. It appears that some of what they have written is tongue in cheek, some to help relieve the daily stresses of working on Capitol Hill. At the end of the day, our goal is to ensure that all interns have the best experience possible."

When people call with a position on pending legislation, the guide advises interns to give a quick position statement. " 'I'll consider your views if the bill comes to the floor for a vote' normally does the trick," it said. "If all else fails, use the 'states' rights' argument."

In sending out the document, Ashdown singled out the treatment afforded the lobbyists, many of whom have transportation clients. Ashdown was one of the harshest critics of Ketchikan's "Bridge to Nowhere," which surfaced as an $229 million item in the 2005 transportation bill when Young chaired the House Transportation Committee.

With interns often answering the phone, they were the first filter of any call. For a lobbyist on the "A List," that meant finding the person sought and passing the call through "unless they say otherwise."

Kenny said they "include either former staffers who represent Alaskans or close friends and former colleagues of Rep. Young, whom he has known for many years."

The A List lobbyists:

-- Rick Alcalde of Potomac Partners, whose clients included real estate developer Daniel Aronoff. Young's Coconut Road interchange earmark, now under federal investigation, would have given access to undeveloped land in Florida owned by Aronoff’s company.

-- Randy DeLay, a lobbyist for STAR Solutions, a coalition of road building, design and engineering firms.

-- Colin Chapman, Young's chief of staff until 2003, who lobbies for the American Trucking Assn. and Doyon Ltd., an Alaska Native corporation.

-- Billy Lee Evans, a former Democratic congressman from Georgia who lobbied against a proposed wind farm off Cape Cod — the same wind farm that Young tried to kill.

-- Jack Ferguson, long-time treasurer of Young's Midnight Sun Political Action Committee and a lobbyist for railroads, airlines, trucking companies among others.

-- Mike Henry, a former Young staffer who lobbies for transportation and energy companies and a liquor trade association.

-- Duncan Smith, a former Young aide who works for the big lobbying firm Blank Rome and has among his clients Native corporations and the Knik Arm Bridge & Toll Authority.

-- C.J. Zane, another former chief of staff for Young who also works for Blank Rome. Among his many clients are cruise lines, fishing interests and Native corporations.

-- Jay Dickey, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, who represents construction interests and other companies in his home state.