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Rep. Don Young turns to oil cash for his legal defense

Alaska Rep. Don Young is reaching into a legal defense fund bankrolled by a Louisiana oil field services company in order to pay lawyers to defend him in his latest ethics investigation.

The Alaska Republican paid $60,000 this spring from his legal defense fund to the Washington, D.C.,-based law firm Akin Gump, according to new disclosures filed with the U.S. House of Representatives. The House ethics committee is investigating Young over allegations that he improperly accepted gifts, used campaign funds for personal purposes and lied to federal officials.

Young’s payment to the lawyers drained nearly half the money remaining in the fund, the disclosures show, with the investigation of him still ongoing. So Young could need to start soliciting money for his legal bills for the first time since 2011, when Young held a fundraiser in Texas and Gary Chouest, head of Louisiana oil field services company Edison Chouest, handed him an envelope with $60,000 inside.

Edison Chouest is heavily involved in Shell’s troubled efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic waters off Alaska.

Edison Chouest built and operates the vessel that was towing Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk when the rig lost control on New Year’s Eve and grounded for several days near Kodiak Island. The incident is under investigation and is among the mishaps that led the Interior Department to declare that Shell “screwed up” in the Arctic.

Money associated with Edison Chouest, a company that also is Young’s top campaign contributor, makes up 65 percent of the total Young raised for his legal defense fund in the past two years. Gary Chouest’s envelope for Young had a dozen checks of $5,000 apiece, each coming from a different subsidiary owned by the Chouest family. The ethics committee, in a prior probe into Young’s legal defense fund, said that "challenges the principles of the contribution limits" designed to limit individual and organization donations to $5,000. But it did not technically violate the rules, the ethics panel ruled in 2011.

Young’s office this week referred questions on his legal defense fund to the fund’s trustee, Gail Schubert. But Schubert, who is president and CEO of Bering Straits Native Corporation, did not respond to questions.

Young started the legal defense fund in 2008 after spending more than $1 million of his campaign contributions on lawyers to defend him from a corruption investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI’s investigation covered Young’s connections to the disgraced oil-field service contractor Bill Allen and his Veco Corp. It also dealt with the revelation that Young or someone from his office had changed the 2005 transportation legislation after it passed Congress to fund start-up work on a Florida interchange sought by a Young campaign contributor.

The FBI closed its probe after concluding in 2010 “there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ultimately convict Congressman Young." The FBI, however, turned over its findings to the House ethics committee, which reviewed them and other evidence about Young’s expenses and travel costs before deciding in March to launch its own investigation.

Young spokesman Michael Anderson declined this week to comment on the status of the investigation, and Young has not agreed to an interview on the subject.

But Young recently told reporters in Juneau, Alaska, that he was cooperating with the investigation and confident in the outcome. "I’ve been under a cloud all my life," Young said then. "It’s sort of like living in Juneau. It rains on you all the time. You don’t even notice it."