Campaign 2010

Sep 18, 2006

Slippery Slope: Did Sweeney Violate House Ethics Rules?

DCCC Press

Sep 18, 2006

Slippery Slope: Did Sweeney Violate House Ethics Rules?

With New York State Assembly Investigation Complete New Yorkers are Wondering if John Sweeney Violated House Ethics Rules for his Role in Winter Challenge

$2.7 million Funding for ORDA in 1999

$345,642 Funding for ORDA This Year

$30,100 Amount Sweeney Banked from Ski Trip Lobbyists and Donors

(Washington, D.C.) – Late last week, the New York State Assembly completed their six-month investigation into alleged improprieties surrounding New York Congressman John Sweeney’s annual ski trip. After months of hearings and deliberations, the Assembly released a 43 page report that shows that Sweeney may have deliberately broken ethics rules of the U.S. House of Representatives because of his direct involvement with the invitation process for the annual ski trip. The trip, which was designed in 1998 to increase funding for the U.S. Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), has come under fire this year. Taxpayers foot the bill for this trip, and in fact, funding for the ORDA has decreased dramatically since the trip’s inception and even more since Sweeney took charge of it.

Throughout the course of the investigation, Congressman Sweeney refused to appear before the Assembly and now according to the report, it is clear that Sweeney had a direct role in inviting guests, even though the House Ethics Committee specifically advised Sweeney not to.

“John Sweeney should return the more than $30,000 he banked from his taxpayer-funded ski weekend, especially amid reports that he may have violated ethics rules and his efforts are not even helping the ORDA,” said Bill Burton, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The New York State Assembly’s report shows that Sweeney played a big role in crafting the invite list, and these apparent violations of ethics rules further show why now is a critical time for change. After sidestepping inquiries, traversing the truth and downhill skiing, New York families deserve honest leadership and this November they will choose to go in a new direction.”

Ski Trip Paid for by Taxpayer Money. The New York Power Authority is the primary sponsor of the CWC. The NYPA is a state public authority charged with making electricity for the citizens of New York. Taxpayers paid an estimated $27,000 for the three-day event. [Post-Standard, 3/26/2006; 7/26/2006]

Federal Funding for ORDA Has Dramatically Declined Since Sweeney Took Control in 1999. Even though the purpose of the event is to increase federal funding to the ORDA facilities around Lake Placid, funding has dramatically decreased since Representative Sweeney took over the event in 1999. In 1999, ORDA received $2.75 million in federal funds, and it has declined to $345,000 in 2006. [An Inquiry into the ORDA, Power Authority, and the CWC, Page 17, 9/15/2006]

The USOC And ORDA Revealed That Sweeney Was “Deeply” Involved In The Invitation Process. Even though the practice is prohibited, ORDA President, Ted Blazer, testified that the invitations were assembled by “the Washington Office of Congressman Sweeney” (Letter from Steven Bull of the USOC to Chairman Brodsky, 7/24/2006; Committee Hearing, 7/11/2006)

ORDA Provided Documentation The Sweeney Selected The Invitees. In addition to sworn testimony that Sweeney helped assemble the invitations to the CWC, the committee collected various documents that demonstrated Representative Sweeney’s role in inviting the attendees. Some of the documentation included:

  • A sample invitation letter from Congressman Sweeney to CWC invitees
  • An attendee list revealed that over 50% of the guests were marked “invited by” Congressman Sweeney
  • A letter from Ted Blazer’s assistant called attendees Congressman Sweeney’s “guests.”
  • A letter from Mr. Blazer to an invitee stating, “Congressman Sweeny has asked me to cordially invite you and a guest to join him…”

Times Union: A Sweeney No-Show at Hearings. Democratic Assemblymen Richard Brodsky and Paul Tonko held their second hearing but U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, was not on hand to testify. But Olympic Regional Development Authority President Ted Blazer was due to make a second appearance. [Times Union, 7/25/06]

Sweeney Banks $30k From Ski Trip Donors and Lobbyists. According to the Times Union, “U.S. Rep. John Sweeney has received $30,100 worth of campaign contributions in the current election cycle from guests at an annual winter weekend getaway in Lake Placid that is under investigation by an Assembly committee.” At an earlier hearing, Olympic Regional Development Authority President Ted Blazer said that Sweeney played a key role in drawing up the Winter Challenge guest list, a practice called “inappropriate by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.” [Times Union, 7/18/06]