In One Earmark, Out the Other

Not a good day for Rep. Don Young (R-AK) in the press. The Anchorage Daily News digs into him for a long history of taking generous campaign contributions from interests for whom he earmarked millions upon millions in federal money.

Young, and more specifically his campaign accounts, benefited tidily from his position on the House Transportation Committee:

 

Time after time in recent years, Young approved millions of dollars for highway projects for people who in turn fattened his campaign treasury.

With money pouring in from transportation interests, Young amassed $6.5 million in political contributions from 2001 to 2005. Facing weak political opposition at home, he didn't need much for his campaign. Instead, Young tapped his campaign fund to travel the country, often lavishly and in corporate jets, to meet with more developers and view their proposed highway projects.

Young was something of a specialist when it came to making earmarks, and this article runs the numbers on money out via those earmarks, and money in to Young:

 

• Of the $6.5 million in contributions that Young collected -- $5.5 million for his campaign and $1 million for his leadership political action committee, or PAC -- about 85 percent came from people who didn't live in Alaska and couldn't vote for him.

• While the number of donors who got earmarks is hard to determine, an analysis of Young's campaign finance reports show that beneficiaries of just seven earmarks with a total price of $259 million gave the veteran congressman at least $575,000. None of the projects was in Alaska.

• As hundreds of lobbyists sought to influence the massive highway-spending bill from 2003 to 2005, Young accepted at least 20 trips aboard private aircraft provided by corporations currying favor with the powerful congressman. He also stayed at such luxury hotels and resorts as the posh Four Seasons hotel in Newport Beach, Calif., MGM's five-diamond Bellagio casino in Las Vegas and the Lodge and Ranch at Chama, N.M., which offers pricey hunting and fly-fishing excursions.

As the piece goes on to note, the explicit trading of federal appropriations for campaign contributions is quite difficult to prove; more often than not the influence of money falls under the category of "ethically shaky but legally sound."

The real difficulty here is that the perception that campaign contributions are influencing government action and government spending is acute and growing. Voters must have believe that their elected officials are working in their best interest and with stories like Young's popping up more and more, that belief won't take root until we do something about the way campaigns are financed.