Politics & Government

When Alaska's Young needed help, lobbyists ponied up

Alaska Congressman Don Young holds a press conference at his Anchorage headquarters on Thursday, February 23, 2006. During his six years as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Young dramatically escalated the controversial practice of "earmarking," which sets aside federal money for pet projects. (Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)
Alaska Congressman Don Young holds a press conference at his Anchorage headquarters on Thursday, February 23, 2006. During his six years as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Young dramatically escalated the controversial practice of "earmarking," which sets aside federal money for pet projects. (Bob Hallinen/Anchorage Daily News/MCT)

Facing bad publicity and a dwindling campaign account, U.S. Rep. Don Young last year turned to the "AK Wolfpack," a group of more than 20 lobbyists, including former Young staffers and retired former congressmen, with close ties to the Alaska Republican.

Young's chief of staff, Mike Anderson, sent the Wolfpack an e-mail to tell them that national Democrats planned aggressive fundraising and claims of misconduct by Young to topple the 35-year incumbent congressman and his fellow Alaska Republican, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

If they succeed, Anderson warned, "you and your clients will be impacted."

Anderson e-mailed the fundraising appeal on June 8, 2007. Since then, according to federal reports, Young has received more than $90,000 from the e-mail recipients, their lobbying firms or clients of their firms. That is nearly a quarter of the roughly $400,000 raised by Young and his Midnight Sun Political Action Committee over the same period through the first quarter of this year.

Of the 27 individuals to whom the e-mail was addressed, 23 are registered federal lobbyists, and some of them are prominent figures whose firms have long lists of well-heeled clients. Many of their clients have ties to Alaska or businesses elsewhere that operate under the jurisdiction of congressional committees that Young has chaired or on which he has been an influential member.

They include Rick Alcalde, the lobbyist at the heart of a Young earmark that is under federal investigation. They also include lobbyists Colin Chapman, Anderson's immediate predecessor as Young's chief of staff, and Randy DeLay, the brother of former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. Randy DeLay lobbied on a Virginia highway project before Young's transportation committee.

A third of the names -- including Alcalde, DeLay and Chapman -- also showed up recently in an informal "guide" produced by interns working for Young's office. According to the interns' guide, the nine named lobbyists were to have unfettered access when they called Young's office, better access even than other members of Congress.

No law or congressional rule prohibits Young's chief of staff from soliciting campaign money from lobbyists. The e-mail does illustrate the path from staff to lobbyist and the role of personal relationships between lobbyists and officeholders like Young. Such relationships are not peculiar to either the Democratic or Republican party.

At least 16 of the people Anderson solicited are former aides to either Young or Stevens. Anderson said in a recent interview that many of them had asked how they could help Young.

"They are friends. Some of them are not lobbyists. They are people who have been concerned for a long period of time. Yes, some of them are lobbyists. But a majority of them have been staff, worked for Young a long, long, long time and they've left," Anderson said. "What you'll find is when you work for a gentleman like Mr. Young you develop a loyalty to the member and to the state and that it transcends all other kinds of things. That's the kind of loyalty he gets out of folks."

Anderson e-mailed his note a day after The New York Times ran a front-page story about Young's earmarking $10 million to study a Florida interchange that would benefit a developer who had raised money for an earlier Young campaign. The paper described the earmark as an "obvious" trade of campaign contributions for legislative favors.

The subject line of Anderson's e-mail was "How can I Help?"

"All this e-mail represents is, a lot of these folks say, 'Hey, man, Young's down, we saw the article, how can we help, what can we do to help,' " Anderson said. "And all this message shows is, all right, if you guys want to help, here's the way you can do it. End of story. They're loyal, they're loyal friends."

Anderson's e-mail was sent at 1:16 on a Friday afternoon from his personal Yahoo account. (He said there were no House votes or Young meetings that day and he often takes off afternoons for personal errands on such days.)

"Staff in the House are permitted to engage in campaign activity on their own time," according to Jan Baran, a Washington election law specialist and former general counsel for the Republican National Committee. "Mr. Anderson seems to be very diligent in not using any resources, including his House e-mail address."

Joseph Birkenstock, another expert who served as general counsel for the Democratic National Committee, agreed. He said officeholders solicit contributions from lobbyists all the time.

But Birkenstock also noted that nine of the lobbyists solicited for money belonged to the "A team" that was to receive top access to Young's office, at least according to the interns' guide, which was recently leaked to several media outlets.

"There are certainly appropriateness concerns that get raised when it starts to get formalized like this. I had a concern when I read the article (about the interns' guide) that there was any quote-unquote A team, which taking it at face value seemed to have been granted extra-normal access to the office," Birkenstock said.

If he were Young's lawyer, he said, he would worry that every member of the "A team" was a professional lobbyist.

"These people can talk to whomever they want," the interns' guide advises. "I recommend looking up who they are."

Anderson said the guide was "tongue in cheek," an informal document put together by interns, not staff, and did not reflect the official policy of the office. The guide includes a lot of other advice, such as avoiding facial piercings, ripped jeans and sneakers, or knowing that Young's wife wants pumpkin seeds when she says sesame seeds.

With respect to the "A team," Anderson suggested that the interns had "put together a list of people they perceive of as a list of folks that have been longtime Young friends and, hey, when these people come by, it's OK ... yeah, it's OK for friends to talk to other friends, that's what it comes down to."

Every one of the interns' "A team" lobbyists was sent Anderson's "How can I Help" e-mail.

"A team" lobbyists such as C.J. Zane, another former chief of Young's staff, have lobbied on legislation being worked on by Young. Zane's Web site proclaims that he "successfully represented several private and public sector organizations in the most recently enacted national highway legislation, SAFETEA-LU."

That was the $284 billion national highway bill Young oversaw and named after his wife, Lu, when he was chairman of the Transportation Committee.

Another "A team" lobbyist is Alcalde, who was never a Young staffer. He lobbied for the 2005 earmark that shifted $10 million from a road-widening project in southwest Florida to a study of an interstate interchange that would benefit Daniel Aronoff, a Michigan developer who raised money for Young.

That earmark mushroomed into a national controversy in part because it was placed in the highway bill, by someone on Young's staff, after the House and Senate had voted on the bill but before it went to the president for his signature.

Young has said he supported the money because local residents and Florida Gulf Coast University requested money for the project. Alcalde has lobbied for both Florida Gulf Coast University and Aronoff's real estate firm, the Landon Companies. Lobbying disclosures show that in 2005, the Landon Companies paid Alcalde $80,000 specifically to lobby on Young's highway bill.

Anderson, Young's chief of staff, said Young doesn't make decisions based on lobbying and his relationship with Alcalde is personal.

"If Rick Alcalde could talk to you on the phone he would tell you that when he was a youngster and so forth he was kind of a rabble-rouser and everything else. The Youngs looked out for him," Anderson said. "And that goes back to the relationship the Youngs have with Mr. Alcalde, with Hector, (Rick's) father and his mother. When Rick went through some tough times and so forth the Youngs were there to help him, to kind of give him some of that guidance he needed. ... Rick credits the Youngs with being a mentor."

Hector Alcalde, Rick's father, is a longtime, top-tier Washington, D.C., lobbyist.

Anderson said Young is having to fight the influence of national Democratic money, although first he must win a strongly contested Republican primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell and Kodiak state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. Young has also spent more than a million dollars of his campaign funds on legal fees related to the ongoing Justice department investigation of his activities -- a fact his opponents are working to exploit even as the election draws closer with no charges filed against him.

"All the (e-mail) was is letting people know there is going to be a tough campaign out there, Young's been around to serve Alaska for a bazillion years, he'd like to continue to serve Alaska, and that is where we are going," Anderson said.

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