Monday, January 23, 2006

Fred LeBrun in Times Union:

Sweeney fell short on this one:
" You'd think after all the grief Republican Congressman John Sweeney has taken for holding a fat fundraiser at the home of a lobbyist out in Utah that there'd be at least a hint of recognition that this was reasonably dumb. Especially because Sweeney has become the poster child for reforming the way his majority caucus does business in the House in light of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. But no, not a sign of contrition. In fact, Sweeney all but said on Friday that if he had to do it all again, he would. And probably will. "I have to raise money. Political campaigns cost a lot of money. We all do it, in both parties. We all go fundraising out of state because we've tapped out resources in our own districts," he said. At the same time, he stressed that he doesn't think he's done a darned thing wrong anyway. Besides, he was busy schmoozing businesses with strong New York connections. He was on the job. The congressman maintains his actions were transparent, that he wasn't trying to hide a thing by holding a $2,000-a-person fundraiser at a ski resort in Utah that included dinner at a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist's home. He did the same thing last year. Notice was in the Congressional Record months ago, he says. It was no secret. Sweeney also is adamant that the dust-up this has created is nothing but politics. On balance, I suspect John Sweeney is just about half right. It is too precious and totally disingenuous to see five Democratic county chairs from his district, along with state Democratic chair Denny Farrell, stand up with ashes in their mouths and a straight face at a news conference and condemn Sweeney for sticking his ski poles in the wrong state: "Your decision to spend a weekend frolicking in Utah with lobbyists instead of here on the slopes of New York sends a terrible message and does nothing to encourage the all-important tourist industry here." Let me get this straight, Chairman Farrell. If Sweeney were frolicking with lobbyists on Whiteface instead, it would be OK? This is all about tourism? A cardinal rule of politics, as in boxing, is never give your opponent an opening, and surely Sweeney has done that. His most recent opponent is Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York City lawyer and the daughter of longtime Albany lobbyist Doug Rutnik. She is plunging through the gap, sensing opportunity. Her feigned horror over Sweeney's behavior is lame. But then again, as Sweeney suggests, it's largely about politics, and he'd certainly do the same thing if he could. It's all fair game. Which brings us to the other half, about his being at least as much wrong as right for behaving as he did in Utah. There's a certain political tone-deafness in Sweeney's response to the flap, it strikes me. As if advocating for lobbying reform even as he is cashing lobbyists' checks, so to speak, wouldn't raise the stink of hypocrisy. Stating on the fundraiser invitation that he's a member of the House Appropriations Committee is a nice touch, but more irony than I can handle in one column. Of course, the perception he created is grotesque, and the congressman has to know that, I think. (Page 2 of 2) Now, toughing it out is an accepted political strategy whenever there's a screw-up, but, privately at least, you acknowledge it could have been handled better and that there will be more caution in the future. But I'm neither hearing nor sensing any of that from John Sweeney. Surprising. Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at "
What is strangest about the whole Sweeney flap, to my eyes, is that old Johnny boy takes the high ground on lobbying for two or three days running, issues a letter calling for change in Washington, then gets on a plane and heads to Utah to hang out with lobbyists. That's not just tone-deaf, it also assumes we're a bunch of rubes.


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