Friday, January 20, 2006

Avalanche of Democratic criticism falls on Sweeney for ski trip

Avalanche of Democratic criticism falls on Sweeney for ski trip
1/18/2006, 6:02 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic attacks on Republican congressman John Sweeney snowballed Wednesday over a fundraising ski trip he hosted last weekend in Utah with at least one prominent Washington lobbyist.

Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, was criticized Tuesday by his would-be Democratic opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, for consorting with lobbyists at a time when, her camp argues, lawmakers should be more open about such dealings.

Democratic county officials jumped into the argument Wednesday, arguing that if Sweeney wants to host $2,000 a person fundraisers on the slopes, he should do it at a ski resort in his own district.

"Your decision to spend a weekend frolicking in Utah with lobbyists instead of here on the slopes in New York sends a terrible message and does nothing to encourage the all important tourist industry here," five Democratic county chairs and the head of the state party wrote to the congressman.

One group, Citizen Action of New York, offered a facetious letter asking if they, too, could ski with the congressman on behalf of all the "struggling families" in his district who can't afford to hit the slopes.

Sweeney's camp countered that, in fact, Sweeney hosted a New York-boosting event in Lake Placid the weekend before, the ninth such Lake Placid getaway Sweeney has hosted for lawmakers and others.

"This latest assault is both sad and troubling," said Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson, adding that Sweeney's fundraising practices are identical to those of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and other Democrats.

"Today, Gillibrand has added another chapter of hypocrisy and dishonesty to a campaign bereft of ideas," said Carlson.

The attacks on Sweeney come as the congressman has called for new elections for all House GOP leaders except Speaker Dennis Hastert, saying the Republican members need to do some "soul searching" in wake of a probe centering around corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with a federal criminal probe of a number of members of Congress and staffers.

Gillibrand's campaign has called for Sweeney to detail which lobbyists attended the event. The congressman's aides say they will report the donations at the regular time to the federal campaign officials.

During the ski weekend, guests were invited to a dinner with pharmaceutical industry lobbyist Jeff Kimbell.

Sweeney aides note Gillibrand has done her own big-ticket fundraisers, and said part of the time Sweeney was in Utah he pressed a top ski association official on economic development in his district.

The lobbyist Kimbell, they said, represents firms with a total of 2,250 jobs in Sweeney's district.

The flurry of criticism continued Wednesday with the chair of the Saratoga GOP pointing out Gillibrand is the daughter of Albany lobbyist Douglas Rutnik.

"She's a New York City lawyer who's only lived in our county part-time for a year and a half," said Jasper Nolan.

Added Sweeney's spokeswoman, "She was born into the lobbying business."