Monday, March 27, 2006

John Sweeney Paid Wife on Commission for Fundraising

(March 25, 2006 -- 11:54 PM EDT)
Talking Points Memo

On the front page of tomorrow's Washington Post, Jeffrey Smith has a lengthy and detailed article about how Tom Delay's one-time Chief of Staff and later lobbyist/advisor, Ed Buckham, used the US Family Network as a front group for the purpose of laundering money from Jack Abramoff's clients into Buckham's own hands.

The broad outlines of the story aren't different from what we already knew -- largely from Smith's December 2005 piece on the same subject. But he provides copious new detail about the audacity of Buckham's own methods of personal enrichment and fairly brazen violation of at least the US tax code.

For my money, the most shocking relevations are still those uncovered in Peter Stone's recent (print only) piece in National Journal (summarized here by Paul Kiel). Using the US Family Network front, DeLay and Buckham arranged officials favors for shadowy Russia 'energy and security' executives in exchange for large cash payments laundered through US Family Network.

One nugget to consider. Like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) and Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), Buckham siphoned off funds off of political contributions and converted them into personal income by having his wife take 'commissions' for a nominal role as fundraiser. Her cut was 10%.

In 1997, for instance, on $524,975 contributed by a handful of Abramoff clients, Wendy Buckham pocketed $43,000 in 'commissions.'

-- Josh Marshall

Sweeney is featured at --- see article below

John Sweeney Paid Wife on Commission for Fundraising
By Paul Kiel - March 22, 2006, 2:00 PM

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY), like Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), paid his wife on commission for campaign fundraising, a highly unusual arrangement that means that the Sweeneys benefitted personally from every contribution. Ethics experts we spoke to earlier this week about Doolittle's wife said that they'd never heard of a similar arrangement. Well, we found one. And it might explain why the Justice Department recently examined Sweeney's financial records.

Like Doolittle's wife, Sweeney's wife Gayle Ford had no known prior fundraising experience before working for her husband's campaign. Her rate, 10 percent, was more modest than Julie Doolittle's 15 percent, but her company Creative Consulting has made a substantial income since 2003 from Sweeney: $49,209 in fees variously described as "fundraising" or "consulting" on FEC reports.

Details of the Sweeneys' arrangement come from a piece last year in Albany's Times Union. Sweeney's spokesperson Melissa Carlson confirmed those details and told us that there was nothing remarkable about his wife's work, saying that a number of members of Congress have family members on their payroll. She also said that the 10 percent fee was standard for what people in the business make, and that Sweeney's wife "knows the people in the community in our district" and only does fundraising there - they have another fundraiser who works in D.C.

It's true that a number of Members have family on the payroll, but this is the only example that we could find, besides Doolittle, of a family member being paid on commission.

There is another respect in which the Sweeneys resemble the Doolittles. Doolittle has refused to disclose Julie Doolittle's other clients, but the ones we know about are Jack Abramoff and Ed Buckham, two lobbyists. And Gayle Ford's only other work was for Powers, Crane, & Co., a lobbying firm. Also known as PCC Consulting, the Albany-based firm represents a number of clients lobbying the federal government. How much Ford earned from that work isn't disclosed in House records.

Last year, two aides from the Justice Department pulled the financial disclosure records of Rep. John Sweeney, along with those of a number of other lawmakers and aides. The others made sense as possible subjects of interest in the Abramoff investigation, but Sweeney didn't. What was the Justice Department investigating? We couldn't figure it out.

Carlson had no explanation for why the Justice Department might be examining Sweeney's records, only saying that "they are public records, anybody's free to examine them" and that "many people do look at them."

Now, are we sure that this is why the Justice Department is looking at Sweeney? No. But it's been repeatedly reported that lawmaker's arrangements with their wives interest investigators, as with Tom DeLay's wife Christine, who worked for DeLay and for Buckham.

And certainly this is a stronger explanation than idle curiosity.