Sweeney began circulating a petition amongst House Republicans calling for new elections for all leadership positions. He then jetted off to Park City, Utah for a fund raising weekend of skiing and other fun with his own lobbyist friends.
Mr. Sweeney had previously stated that Republicans needed to engage in "soul searching" and I guess the slopes of Park City are as good a place as any to do it... apparently it is better than the ski slopes around Lake Placid, NY in Mr. Sweeney's actual congressional district (NY-20) or the Catskill Mountain resorts in the southern portion of his district.
A new leadership election can only be called at an official meeting of the House Republican Conference. It requires a petition signed by 50 members to call the meeting. Melissa Carlson, spokeswoman for Sweeney said yesterday, "We're confident." She says they have 30 congressmen supporting Sweeney's initiative and that the proposal would almost certainly receive sufficient backing to bring it before the conference as it gathers on February 2 to replace TomDeLay.
Public support for Sweeney was harder to identify but an article in today's New York Sun stated:
Mr. Sweeney's office has declined to make the full list of supporters public, but was willing to disclose that, in addition to Mr. Lungren, Reps. Anne Northup, of Kentucky; Melissa Hart, of Pennsylvania; Mary Bono, of California; J.D. Hayworth, of Arizona; Christopher Cannon, of Utah; Gil Gutknecht, of Minnesota; Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, and Howard "Buck" McKeon, of California, have signed their names to the petition.
Sweeney had this to say:
"The time has come for those who wish to lead this Conference to rise to the challenge, unite the party and stand before the Conference to outline a clear agenda for returning to the values that we as Republicans hold dear," Mr. Sweeney wrote in a letter that will go to the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Deborah Pryce, of Ohio, if the signature threshold is crossed, pursuant to conference rules.
... making one wonder if his over-arching ambition was the driving force in this. Stymied in his desire to become Governor of New York perhaps Sweeney has delusions of grandeur in the House leadership. As for values... well... let's just say that there is plenty of evidence that values is a subject Mr. Sweeney does not want to bring into the discussion in an election year.
Sweeney is facing the very real possiblity of an upset by Democratic challenger Kirsten Gillibrand who makes her formal announcement this coming Tuesday, Jan 31.
Sweeney's new mouthpiece, Melissa Carlson (his old one Kevin Madden now has the unenviable job of trying to cover for Tom DeLay), had this to say...
"He's not running for any position, he's not endorsing any candidate for any position," Ms. Carlson said. "But he feels that in the wake of the Abramoff scandals, anyone who wants to lead our conference ought to be able to come forward and ... address the issues we've been tainted with, and say we're not a part of them."
Which is particularly rich given that just a few days ago Sweeney and Carlson were unable "to come forward and... address the issues we've been tainted with, and say we're not a part of them."
Rather than coming clean regarding his frolicking weekend of fund raising fun with big pharma lobbyists Carlson instead took the very lowest political road of attacking their opponent with their own sins...
"Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson called those barbs "malicious, self-serving, and hypocritical." She said Gillibrand had "chosen the low road in her first campaign for office in a district she barely knows, for people she's never met, for reasons we may never know."
And never did answer the question of why Sweeney thought it was ok to jet off for a skiing weekend with lobbyists in the midst of this scandal.
Indeed, when challenged to reveal the names of all the lobbyists that had high priced access to Mr. Sweeney and his seat on the House Appropriations committee that weekend Carlson was less than forthcoming stating that Sweeney's next FEC filing, due April 15, would include the details. Hardly the way to show that you are not a tainted part of a bribery and corruption scandal enveloping the entire Republican caucus of which Mr Sweeney is an engrained part. FEC filings will not show the level of information necessary to answer these questions and clear Mr. Sweeney's name.
One wonders what they have to hide that they can't follow their own call for honesty, openness and transparency.
It is Sweeney's choice. Follow his own advice and clear his name or spend the rest of the campaing season tainted with the stench of a lobbying scandal. As Fred LeBurn of the Albany Times Union had to say:
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.
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.
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.
But then again, all that is par for the course for John Sweeney.