The GOP's "Culture of Corruption" lives on

Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) colleagues are ready to recommend criminal charges against him.

By Steve Benen

Published April 17, 2008 8:06PM (EDT)

In the annals of Republican corruption in Congress, Alaska Rep. Don Young has always been slightly more entertaining than most.

To briefly recap for those just joining us, Young authored a $10 million earmark in the last Congress for a stretch of pavement near Fort Myers, Fla., called Coconut Road, which the NYT reported touches five golf clubs on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

So why, exactly, would a representative from Alaska direct pork to southwest Florida? Because real estate developer Daniel Aronoff wanted it, and he helped Young raise $40,000 just a few days before Young snuck the earmark into the transportation bill.

It's as bad as it sounds. Aronoff hosted a lucrative fundraiser, asked Young for tax dollars, and Young delivered. To add to the humor, it turned out local officials didn't even want the earmark. (Young told officials that if they didn't spend this money, they might, as the NYT put it, "jeopardize future federal money for the county.")

Now, it appears that some of Young's congressional colleagues think it may be time for Young to go.

The Senate moved yesterday toward asking the Justice Department for a criminal investigation of a $10 million legislative earmark whose provisions were mysteriously altered after Congress gave final approval to a huge 2005 highway funding bill.

In what may become the first formal request from Congress for a criminal inquiry into one of its own special projects, top Senate Democrats and Republicans have endorsed taking action in connection with the earmark that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, inserted into the legislation.

"It's very possible people ought to go to jail," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees highway funding.

Keep in mind, Young didn't just author the earmark, he put it into a transportation bill after it had been passed by both chambers of Congress. As recently as February, Young said this wasn't his fault.

This week, Young insisted his staff made the change, but was merely "correcting" a mistake in the bill before it went to the White House: "Young's office accepted responsibility yesterday for the change, insisting that campaign contributions were not the motive. Rather, presentations made by Florida Gulf Coast University officials and the developers proved the case for the project, aides said."

As Kevin Drum put it, "Young was blown away by the awesomeness of their technical presentation explaining why the interchange would be a boon to the Lee County economy. Just goes to show how persuasive a good PowerPoint presentation can be, I guess."

If Young doesn't have a really good legal defense team, now would be a good time to put one together.

Steve Benen

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