The Washington Times - December 20, 2011, 02:02PM

The House Ethics Committee has cleared Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican, of any wrongdoing related to donations to his legal expense fund, but the panel also changed the rules to make them clearer.

Mr. Young was accused of accepting 12 contributions of $5,000 to his legal expense fund from the same donor. But after a two-month probe, the ethics panel determined that the contributions did not violate House rules because they came from different maritime-related corporations owned and operated by the same Louisiana family.

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Gary Chouest, his wife and five children own all the companies in question. But the panel found that each company was “a distinct legal entity” that was separately registered with the Louisiana secretary of state a number of years before the contributions were made and therefore did not violate House rules.

The Ethics Committee, however, found that the identical ownership of the 12 entities “challenges the principles of the contributions limits” and decided to adopt changes to the rules making it clear that contributions from certain types of entities, such as limited-liability corporations, will be attributed to the owners of these entities. The rule changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The Ethics Committee looked into the matter after receiving a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent board that conducts initial reviews of ethics complaints against lawmakers and then either dismisses them or forwards them to the full ethics panel for further review.

Mr. Young created a legal expense fund to help defray costs associated with a long-running Justice Department investigation looking into his ties to Bill Allen, a former oil industry executive who was at the center of the federal corruption case against the late Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

The Justice Department also looked into an earmark Mr. Young inserted into a 2005 highway bill on behalf of a developer who contributed to Mr. Young’s re-election campaign.

The department ended its Alaska oil case without bringing charges against Mr. Young.