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  • Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Republican Corruption in Alaska: Don Young, Corrupt Every Which Way He Can

    I recently I wrote a piece on the very, very nasty corruption among Republicans in Alaska. Specifically, I wrote about a scandal involving an oil services company, VECO, that involves bribery and buying of favors involving four Alaskan Republican State Legislators, one US Senator from Alaska (Ted Stevens) and the lone House Representative from Alaska (Don Young). The single Democrat, a state legislator, initially investigated was never subsequently accused of wrongdoing. In other words, the VECO scandal is exclusively a Republican scandal.

    But when I wrote that piece, I hadn't realized I had only scratched the surface. Turns out, one recipient of VECO's alleged bribes, Rep. Don Young, may well be the poster boy for just about every kind of Republican corruption this nation has been seeing.

    Here is a rundown of Don Young's sleaze from The Muckraker:

    It's hard to keep track of all of Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) scandals. But we're here to help. Here's a snapshot of what we know about all the ways Young has managed to get into trouble.

    Coconut Road
    McClatchy reported last week that investigators have begun scrutinizing Young's now famous $10 million earmark for a Florida interchange. Whether the earmark was a quid pro quo for a big time contributor is only half the story. Young also appears to have changed the bill's language after it passed Congress in order to make sure that the money went where (or to who) he wished.

    Dennis Troha
    As we noted in our post on Young's remarkable fundraising record in the run-up to the 2005 transportation bill, Wisconsin businessman Dennis Troha is reportedly cooperating with investigators regarding his contributions to Young and other lawmakers. Troha allegedly gave his support in exchange for a measure that was inserted into the bill.

    The FBI is also scrutinizing Young's dealings with Alaska oil services company Veco Corp. At issue is whether he accepted bribes in exchange for political favors over the course of his long friendship with former Veco CEO Bill Allen. In January, Young tried to make amends by returning $38,000 to Allen for the decade-worth of pig roast fundraisers the executive held in Young's honor each year in Anchorage. From 1996 to 2006, when Allen played host to the pork gala, Veco and its employees gave Young at least $157,000. Young was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for six of those years.

    It's unclear what Young might have arranged for Veco in exchange. But Veco has certainly done well as a federal contractor. The company's federal sector website touts having "successfully completed projects totaling over $25 billion," since 1992. Investigators are reportedly investigating Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) role in helping Veco get a $170 million contract. But which contracts might Young's help have proven instrumental? We'll keep you posted.

    Jack Abramoff
    Young also touches another investigation. The sole Alaska congressman kept close ties with Jack Abramoff and was known to hold fundraisers in Abrmoff's MCI skybox. Last year, Paul reported on a 1999 Abramoff-organized Congressional junket Young led to the Marshall Islands. At the time, Young was the chair of the House Resources Committee. The delegation, which included Reps. John Doolittle (R-CA), Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), visited the Kwajalein Atoll missile test site and attended a meeting of the parliament, during which a resolution was introduced to rename the test site after Ronald Reagan. Thanks to Paul's intrepid reporting, we hear Young allegedly addressed the assembly in Bermuda shorts. Young vehemently denies wearing the short pants which are still part of the Royal Navy uniform.

    Mark Zachares, a native Alaskan and former senior aide on the House Transportation Committee -- during Young's tenure as chair -- pleaded guilty in July to hawking political favors in exchange for perks (like $60,000 in cash and a trip to Scotland) and a future job from Abramoff. Though Zachares carried out Abramoff's work under Young's noise, no concrete evidence has surfaced showing that Young was directly involved. But, Young's effort seven years ago to stop sweatshop reform in the Mariana Islands raises some suspicion. Zachares was a Mariana Islands official at the time and Abramoff was the islands' lobbyist and paid $11 million to make sure Congress didn't interfere with wages or immigration -- the two areas under Zachares' domain. Thanks to Young, the reforms were halted.

    And Zachares wasn't the only aide of Young's to have a relationship with Abramoff. Young's staffer Duane Gibson left to go work for Abramoff.

    That's four separate scandals Don Young is mired in. That is pretty damned disgusting if you ask me. But there might even be more. I find a site called that has a pretty comprehensive coverage of Don Young's corruption. Here is their summary with links to more:

    House Transportation Committee

    Don Young used his power as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to steer vast sums of public money to his family and campaign donors.

    Click here to Read more »

    Young’s Ties to [Convicted Felon] Abramoff

    Mark Zachares’ corruption is the latest to surface in a long line of links between Young and Abramoff.

    Click here to Read more »

    Young’s Aide Zachares Gave [Convicted Felon]Abramoff Inside Information

    For four years, Zachares engaged in a conspiracy to enrich the infamous Abramoff, a Republican Party insider whose corrupt acts entangled several members of Congress and other government officials.

    Click here to Read more »

    The [Convicted Felon] Abramoff Skybox

    On February 2, 2000, Young called Abramoff’s assistant Jennifer Calvert to ask for use of Abramoff’s MCI skybox for two upcoming fundraisers.

    Click here to Read more »

    Mariana Islands

    Over the years Young repeatedly acted to aid the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a small group of Pacific Ocean islands under U.S. jurisdiction. Abramoff was paid $11 million to lobby for CNMI from 1994 to 2001.

    Click here to Read more »

    Marshall Islands

    On January 4, 1999, Abramoff was hired to represent the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Abramoff’s main mission was to stop legislation pending in Congress, which would have raised costs of clothing manufacture by the Tan family and other clothing manufacture interests there.

    Click here to Read more »

    Post Office Project

    In September 2002, Young sought to intervene with the General Services Administration on behalf of Abramoff, who at that time was seeking preferential treatment for a group of his Tribal clients who were bidding on a proposal to develop the Old Post Office Complex site in Washington, DC.

    Click here to Read more »

    Young’s Ties to VECO

    VECO CEO Bill Allen and VP Richard Smith pleaded guilty in May, 2007 to bribing Alaska lawmakers.

    Click here to Read more »

    Don Young’s Way

    The proposed bridge across Knik Arm near Anchorage, otherwise known as Don Young’s Way, became a subject of national ridicule and driver of earmark reform in Congress. Young sponsored an earmark of more than $230 million dollars in the 2005 federal highway transportation bill for the bridge that is to be named after himself.

    Click here to Read more »

    AK or Arkansas?

    Arkansas, with a population of about 2.8 million, reaped a total of about $2.38 billion in the five-year national transportation bill that Young helped pass in 2005 when he was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

    Click here to Read more »

    Coconut Road in Florida

    The New York Times reported Young’s connection to a $10 million appropriation he earmarked for Coconut Road in Florida.

    Click here to Read more »

    Trucking legislation

    Another example of Don Young taking official action that benefited some of his campaign donors is the passage of legislation that revised truck-hauling rules.The Anchorage Daily News reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office opened an investigationinto a deal involving payments to Rep. Young and other Congressmen by indicted Wisconsin businessman Dennis Troha.

    Click here to Read more »

    Sources of campaign funds

    Of Young’s five largest sources of funds in the most recent campaign cycle, two - Veco Corp. and Jht Holdings - are tainted by corruption scandals. Veco is the oil field service company whose executives Bill Allen and Richard Smith pled guilty to bribing Alaska legislators. Since 1989 Young has received more than $200,000 from VECO employees, his largest source of campaign funds.

    Click here to Read more »

    Ties to GOP leaders

    Young voted with President Bush 86% of the time and the Republican Party line 94% of the time.

    Click here to Read more »

    Ties with [Indicted] Tom Delay

    Young has taken money from Tom DeLay’s ARMPAC, voted to weaken House ethics rules when DeLay proposed doing so, voted to allow the GOP House Leader to continue to serve after an indictment, and voted with Tom DeLay 88% of the time.

    Click here to Read more »

    Not a pretty picture. In 2006 in state after state, Abramoff tied, corrupt Republicans were indicted, convicted and/or voted out of office by angry voters. If Alaska follows the trend of cleaning house that so many other states did, Don Young's days are seriously numbered.

    You can help clean up Alaska by donating through my Alaska Act Blue Site.

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Republican Corruption in Alaska: VECO and Republican bedfellows

    I have reported many times about how the Republican Parties in Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky were about the most corrupt political establishments in America. One that I have been missing is the Alaska Republican Party. I think it is time I turn northward to discuss what is going on in Alaska.

    At the epicenter of Alaska corruption seems to be the Alaska oil services company Veco Corp. Veco, until its recent buyout, was an oil pipeline service and construction company. Perhaps Veco would like to be best known for the fact that it carried out a great deal of the clean up efforts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. But this is not the only thing they were known for. They were known for illegal influence on Republican politicians.

    In 2006 the FBI served some 20 search warrants on the offices of six Alaska state legislators: Sen. John Cowdery (R-Anchorage), Senate President Ben Stevens (R-Anchorage) (son of US Senator Ted Stevens), Rep. Vic Kohring (R-Wasilla), Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R-Juneau), Sen Don Olson (D-Nome), and Rep. Pete Kott (R-Eagle River). Also named in the search warrants were VECO officers Bill Allen, Rick Smith and Pete Leathard.

    Then in 2007, Pete Kott, Vic Kohring and Bruce Weyhrauch were arrested and charged with bribery, extortion, fraud in connection with allegations of soliciting and receiving money and favors from VECO chief executive officer Bill Allen and chief lobbyist Rick Smith in return for their votes on an oil tax law favored by VECO.

    Ben Stevens has not been indicted so far, but has been implicated in the scandal. But his father, US Senator Ted Stevens, is also under investigation by both the FBI and IRS in connection with the remodeling of Ted Stevens' home in Girdwood, Alaska. This remodeling was actually supervised by VECO, and invoices for the work were first sent to VECO before being sent to the Senator. The remodeling done by VECO wasn't just a minor job, but actually doubled the size of the house to 2471 square feet, now valued at about $441,000...which seems awfully cheap to a New Yorker like me. Maybe I should be buying a home in Alaska!

    Who paid for what aspects of the remodeling, why VECO, an oil services firm, was involved in the first place, and what they got in return are all under investigation. In July, 2007, the FBI and the IRS raided Stevens' house. Interestingly, this occurred soon after VECO execs Bill Allen and Rick Smith plead guilty in U.S. District Court in May, 2007. Did they rat out Ted Stevens, leading to the search of his remodeled house?

    To quote the TPM Muckraker:

    Here’s the straightforward arrangement: oil company decides to remodel senator's house, oil company finds contractor, contractor creates new first floor in senator's house, contractor sends invoices to oil company, oil company reviews bills, oil company faxes bills to senior senator, senior senator pulls cash from a special account set up specifically for the construction and pays contractor, senior senator never speaks to contractor. The arrangement looks fairly questionable on its face. And it looks even more questionable when you take Veco's track record into account. The person from Veco who hired Paone was Veco CEO Bill Allen. Allen happens to have just plead guilty this month to federal conspiracy and bribery charges for “giving things of value” to local lawmakers. In a court document accompanying his guilty plea, the Anchorage Daily News noticed a seemingly irrelevant description of what the company did not do while he was in charge: "Veco was not in the business of residential construction or remodeling." So far Stevens has refused to explain the arrangement. But it has piqued the FBI’s interest and investigators are looking into it.

    Of the original 6 Alaska state lawmakers who had their legislative offices searched at the beginning of the whole scandal, only State Senator Don Olson (D-Nome) (the ONLY Democrat to have been investigated) has not been implicated in the scandal.

    But the Republican VECO scandal doesn't stop there. In addition to one of its US Senators, Alaska's only Congressional Rep is ALSO implicated in the VECO scandal. Representative Don Young (R-AK) is under federal investigation for accepting bribes from VECO. Because of this, it seems Don Young must now spend much of his campaign money on legal feels. In 2007 alone, his legal fees reached $854,035. Note that Don Young's campaign could practically buy Ted Stevens's VECO remodelled house twice over with that money.

    You can read more here, here and here.

    So what's the bottom line for Alaska? Well, there is the embarrassment of being listed as one of the four most corrupt states in the country, along with Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri. But it also is spoiling the business climate in Alaska. At the end of 2007, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. decided not to bid for a contract working on a natural gas pipeline in Alaska, citing these scandals as one main reason. From Scripps News:

    "As you are painfully aware the ongoing corruption investigations coupled with previous indictments, guilty pleas and convictions draw into question virtually every major Alaskan project participant and governmental levels from State to Federal," says the letter from MidAmerican CEO David Sokol. "Obviously your administration had no involvement in these previous shenanigans nor did we; however, you and we alone cannot develop the pipeline project through AGIA's expected process."

    So Republican corruption is bad for business. And that is bad for Alaska and bad for America. Let's remember, Republican corruption is partly responsible for Democrats winning big in 2006 and 2007 in Ohio and Kentucky. Will Missouri and Alaska be the next states where Republican corruption is voted out of office? You can help out by donating here to turn Alaska blue.