COMMENTARY - John Sweeney Ethics Preclude His Reelection To Congress
When Congressman John Sweeney's son was charged with second degree
assault as a result of a fight in Stillwater on Aug. 19, 2004, which
seriously injured the victim, he turned to Troy attorney E. Stewart
Although his son could have faced up to seven years in prison for the vicious assault, he walked, escaping all jail time.
Reassure us, tell us politics had nothing to do with that.
Now three news outlets have produced an incident report concerning a
report of domestic violence at the Sweeney home, obtained from the New
York State Police and Sweeney, embroiled in a contentious race for
Congressman in the 20th Congressional District, claims the report is
fabricated. He has in essence accused the media, three separate news
organizations, of falsifying evidence and says that he's going to
produce the real report.
So where is it?
Once again Sweeney has turned to attorney E. Stewart Jones who says
he's been hired to find out who "leaked" the report. He says he's
advised Sweeney NOT to produce the "real" report.
Is there one? We suspect there's only one report, the one the media obtained.
Not only is there a huge problem involving John Sweeney's character and
fitness for public office, but he has a humungous credibility problem.
It appears that the news organizations had been trying for months to
obtain the police report from a 911 call made after midnight on Dec. 2,
2005, by Sweeney's wife, Gaia "Gayle" Ford Sweeney. According to the
police report, she told a trooper who responded to the call at their
Clifton Park home that they got into an argument that "turned a little
physical by her being grabbed by the neck and pushed around the house"
by Sweeney. The report relates that the couple appeared calm when the
trooper arrived but that the Congressman had scratches on his face.
No one was arrested.
It is unlikely that three competing news organizations would "conspire"
against Sweeney, as he in essence alleges, to produce a false report of
domestic violence and his claim that there's another report just
doesn't ring true, especially since he can't or won't produce it and
now claims it's all the fault of Kirsten Gillibrand.
His lack of honesty and credibility came forth at his hastily called
news conference with his wife when he had to read from notes held down
in front of him when commenting about the incident. He couldn't even
look directly into the camera and if he was speaking openly and
honesty, he wouldn't have needed crib notes that someone had apparently
prepared for him.
His wife obviously has a lot to gain from Sweeney being reelected and
who knows if she has been threatened in any way to now say that she was
never assaulted by him. At least one TV news outlet has reported that
Sweeney may have a history of domestic violence, indicating that in
1998, his former wife also reported a similar incident to the police.
Instead of admitting the incident and coming clean, he instead is
trying to blame the whole situation on his opponent. Not only is he
unwilling to take responsibility and accept the blame for the fallout
from his own actions, but he's trying to divert the blame to someone
else, a woman---in our view yet another form of domestic violence and
his attack ads against the woman have been relentless and possibly
defamatory and slanderous.
Instead of accepting responsibility, he calls in the GOP big-whigs to
rally around him ---Gov. George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph
Bruno and former NYC mayor Rudy Guiliani. Bruno shouldn't be vouching
for anyone, he should be under intense investigation by the New York
State Ethics Commission himself.
Maybe the reason that Sweeney can't produce what he claims is the
"real" report is that he can't convince anyone in the State Police to
make up a report that he can show around to claim it's the "real thing".
There's no doubt that politics played a role in the criminal charges
against his son who avoided jail time after admitting to felony second
In a rare action, Republican Fulton County Judge Richard Giardino
reversed his earlier decision to sentence John J. Sweeney Jr., 19, of
Schaghticoke and John J. Manupella of Troy, also 19, to jail for a
brutal assault of another teen last year which fractured his skill and
left the victim with long-term vision damage and recurring nightmares.
He will also have to undergo reconstructive dental work after losing
one tooth and having three other teeth chipped in the assault.
The pair had pleaded guilty to second degree assault in a plea bargain
negotiated with the Montgomery County district attorney's office in
exchange for a sentence of four months of weekends in jail or 45
consecutive days in jail plus probation and community service.
Second degree assault is a class D felony and they could have received up to seven years in state prison.
But when the pair appeared in court before Giardino, he reversed his
earlier decision, and negated the plea agreement. He suspended the jail
time, granted them youthful offender status and sealed the court
Giardino said that he weighed a number of factors. He didn't happen to
mention if politics and the Republican party were among them.
The sentence did not please the victim, Matthew Brady, 20, of
Stillwater who said that he believed the pair got such favorable
treatment because Sweeney's father is a Congressman. "It's all about
money", Brady said. "If you have money, you have power". Brady said the
sentence was totally unjust, that "they just walked away with a slap on
They were sentenced to 240 hours of community service, five years of
probation and must pay Brady's medical costs which total $18,000 to
date. They are also barred from having any contact with Brady whom they
assaulted in Stillwater on Aug. 19, 2004, in a fight involving 15 to 20
men. The fight between Sweeney and Brady was allegedly about a girl.
The Sweeneys are now blaming the pressures of Junior's arrest along
with the Congressman's medical problems which caused his
hospitalization last year as the impetus behind the call, saying that
the "year-long public scrutiny reached its breaking point". If he
couldn't handle the public scrutiny last year, the pressures must be
really mounting now and perhaps his wife should seek added protection.
His wife claimed she didn't need to be protected from her husband yet
she's the one who called the police and said he was pushing her around
Sweeney has some serious baggage, not only from his funding sources but
from his position on the war in Iraq and his voting record.
John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Contributions 2006 Summary
John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Contributors
John Sweeny: Campaign Finance/Money - Top Contributing Industries
Beyond Delay has listed Sweeney as one of the 20 most corrupt members
of Congress and points out that Sweeney had begun using Gayle Ford, who
became his wife, as a fundraiser in April 2003. He proposed to her in
Beyond Delay says that under the name of "Gaia Mashanta Ford",
Sweeney's wife, Creative Consulting was registered in April 2003 with
the Albany County Clerk's office. A day later, Sweeney hired Creative
Consulting to do fundraising work for his campaign although Ms. Ford
(now Mrs. Sweeney) had no previous fundraising experience and appears
to have had no other clients. She wasn't paid a salary, Beyond Delay
says, but instead was paid a 10% commission on the funds she raised for
It has been reported that Sweeney's campaign paid Creative Consulting
$42,570 during the 2004-2005 election cycle and as of April 2006, had
paid the firm $30,879 for the current election cycle. Beyond Delay
reports that checks from Sweeney's campaign go to a P.O. Box in Clifton
Park, the town where the couple lives.
It has been charged that Sweeney is converting campaign funds to
personal use in violation of the federal Election Campaign Act and
The nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy and "Congresspedia" has
compiled a report on Sweeney which indicates a long history of ethical
problems which include a ski trip to New York, the exchange of
legislative assistance for campaign contributions his appearance at a
drinking party at a frat house where he was said to be drunk and
slurring his words but defended his appearance there, saying he was
discussing "policy" with the students.
Sweeney invited 53 people to join him earlier this year, from Jan. 6-9,
in Lake Placid for a "Congressional Winter Challenge" at the Olympic
facilities where they pretended to be Olympic athletes, engaging in
skiing, bobsledding and hockey at the expense of New York State
taxpayers. Sweeney claims there were no improprieties but the weekend
would seem to violate provisions of the House gift and travel rules.
There's other matters such as the complaint field with the Commission
on Congressional Mailing Standards which alleges that Sweeney violated
the Congressional franking privileges by mailing 500 letters less than
90 days before New York's Sept. 12 primary.
Sweeney has also been criticized for hosting a Utah fundraising ski
trip in the wake of the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff that
included a dinner at the home of lobbyist Jeff Kimbell who represents
the pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Allergan.
Congresspedia reports that Sweeney is among seven members of the House
Appropriations Committee who have a political action committee which is
either headed by a registered lobbyist or a former registered lobbyist
with "business" before the Committee", according to the Center for
Public Integrity and campaign records.
Sweeney's financial records are currently being investigated by the
U.S. Department of Justice in regard to possible ties to Jack Abramoff
after he accepted money from former clients of Abramoff.
In 2001, when he traveled to the Northern Marianas Island to speak to
its Chamber of Commerce, his trip was funded by the Chamber, one of
Abramoff's clients. He was accompanied on the trip by Tony Rudy, former
aide to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was then working
for Abramoff. According to federal law, members of Congress must
disclose all trips funded by private sources but Sweeney failed to
report this trip, claiming that he thought the trip was funded by the
The police report and Sweeney's alleged history of domestic violence is the straw that broke the camel's back.
Voters in the 20th Congressional District definitely need a change, not an albatross to represent them in Washington.
Sometimes voters have to the candidate with the least baggage. In the
race for the 20th Congressional District, that person is Kirsten