John E. Sweeney

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John Sweeney
John e sweeney.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from 's 20th & 22nd district
In office
January 3, 1999-January 3, 2003 (22nd)
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2007 (20th)
Preceded by Gerald B. H. Solomon (1999)
Benjamin A. Gilman (2003)
Succeeded by Maurice Hinchey (2003)
Kirsten Gillibrand (2007)
Personal details
Born (1955-08-09) August 9, 1955 (age 60)
Troy, New York
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Gaia Sweeney Erin sweeney
Residence Clifton Park, New York
Alma mater Sage College (BA)
Western New England School of Law (JD)
Occupation attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

John E. Sweeney (born August 9, 1955) is a politician from the U.S. state of New York. A Republican, he represented New York's 20th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from January 1999 to January 2007. He was defeated for reelection in November 2006 by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.


Early life and education[edit]

Sweeney was born in Troy, New York and graduated from Lansingburgh High School in 1973. He received an associate degree from Hudson Valley Community College in 1978 and a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice from the Sage College of Albany in 1981. In 1991, he received a J.D. from Western New England College School of Law.

Political career[edit]

Sweeney was "Rensselaer County's one-time STOP-DWI coordinator."[1]

He was the Executive Director & Chief Counsel of the New York Republican Party from 1992 to 1995, and New York State Commissioner of Labor under Governor George Pataki from 1995 to 1997.

Congressional career[edit]

Election to the U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Prior to the 1998 election, Sweeney moved from Cohoes to Speigletown, to run for the seat in the district of Republican Representative Gerald B. H. Solomon who was retiring.[2] Solomon endorsed and campaigned for Sweeny.

Sweeney was elected to the US House in 1998, winning with 55 percent of the vote over Democrat challenger Jean Bordewich. [3]


In 2000, Sweeney defeated Democrat Kenneth McCallion, receiving 68 percent of the vote.

In 2002, he defeated Frank Stoppenbach, getting 73 percent of the vote.

In 2004, he defeated Doris F. Kelly, receiving 66 percent of the vote.

Political positions[edit]

In 2006, Sweeney was classified as a Libertarian Conservative by the non-partisan group[4] But in 2006, he attempted to distance himself from his record of supporting the Bush Administration.[5] even though he voted in support of the positions of the Christian Coalition 69 percent of the time.

Sweeney opposed gun control. He voted for prayer in public schools on numerous occasions and the National Education Association gives him an 18% approval rating.[4]

Sweeney sponsored legislation that would create mandatory drug testing for all federal employees, and ban all research pertaining to legalization of drugs.[6] He consistently voted to use federal agents to arrest, prosecute, and imprison medical marijuana patients in states where voters or legislators have extended protections to patients.[7]

Sweeney supported human embryonic stem cell research and voted to allow federal funding for international abortion groups, but has also voted against similar funding at home.[8]

Sweeney voted for making it a federal crime to transport minors across state lines for an abortion. His record is 90% anti-abortion.[4]

He opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, but supported a ban on adoptions by gays or other individuals who are not related by blood or marriage (HR 2587).

On economic matters, Sweeney supported free trade and tax cuts, as well as social security privatization.

Sweeney opposed environmental protections and was given a "D" grade by EANY for opposing GE dredging of PCB aka Polychlorinated biphenyl from the Hudson River.[4][9]

In 2001, Sweeney voted against a bill that would require increasing average fuel efficiency standards and offer incentives for alternative fuel vehicles. (Bill HR 4).

Sweeney received an "F" on the Drum Major Institute's 2005 Congressional Scorecard on middle class issues.

Campaign contributions[edit]

According to EMILY's List, Sweeney has taken more campaign contributions from special interests than any other of New York's 29 Representatives[10]and was also the seventh largest recipient of contributions from lobbyists out of all 435 House representatives in the 2006 election cycle.[11]

2006 re-election campaign loss[edit]

In August 2006, Sweeney's allies filed successfully against signatures on Libertarian opponent Eric Sundwall's ballot petitions, resulting in Sundwall's name being removed from the general election ballot. However, Sweeney still lost the general election on November 7, 2006 to Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand with 47% of the vote.


In September 2006, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released its second annual report on members of Congress with ethics issues, titled "Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch)". Sweeney was one of the 20. The organization said "His ethics issues stem from a ski trip to New York, the exchange of legislative assistance for campaign contributions and the hiring of his wife as a campaign fundraiser."[12]

Role in Florida recount in 2000[edit]

During the 2000 election, Sweeney allegedly helped earn his nickname from President Bush, "Congressman Kickass," by organizing the so-called Brooks Brothers riot that disrupted the Florida elections commissioners.[13] He was said to have led the charge on the third recount in Miami, flying in astroturfing GOP operatives and instructing them to "shut it down!" by raising a clamor and pounding on the election commission's doors.[14] Sweeney used the words "thugs" to describe the Florida officials involved in the recount. He defended his actions in connection with the incident as "completely and absolutely legitimate" and declared that his intent was only to stop the canvassing board from withdrawing its activities from public view.[15]

Wife as fundraiser[edit]

On April 11, 2003, Sweeney began paying a company called Creative Consulting for fund-raising. The company had been founded a day earlier by Gaia "Gayle" Ford. Between April 2003 and December 2003, Sweeney's campaign paid $42,570 to the firm. Sweeney proposed to Ford in September 2003[16] and married her in 2004.

Sweeney spokeswoman Melissa Carlson said the congressman considers his wife "his best representative in the district when he's fund-raising." She said Ford, who had no previous fund-raising experience, receives a 10 percent commission on whatever she raises. Between January 2005 and April 2006, Ford was paid $30,879. Sweeney also has had a fundraising consultant on monthly retainer since June 2004, who is paid $8,583 a month.

Ford also works for Powers & Company, the lobbying firm of former state GOP Chairman William Powers, Sweeney's longtime political ally and onetime boss.[17]

The Winter Challenge was started in 1998 by Sweeney's House predecessor, Gerald Solomon, with the declared purpose of showcasing the Olympic facilities at Lake Placid, New York to congressmen and their staffers in hopes of getting federal funds; Sweeney has hosted the annual event since 1999.

In January 2006, Sweeney, his wife, and about 60 other people spent a four-day weekend at the facilities, competing against each other in skating, downhill skiing and bobsledding events. The group included Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), a close friend of Sweeney[18] and his wife; and aides to U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Representative Randy Kuhl (R-NY), and Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI).[19][20] The weekend cost the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) $27,500, plus in-kind services it provided and the costs of operating the Olympic venues for the competition (exact figures for the latter two were unavailable).[21] ORDA is a part of the New York State government.[22]

In the fall of 2005, the House ethics panel told Sweeney in a letter that he should be careful to let the Olympics groups invite guests to avoid the appearance of an endorsement by the House.[19] "Once the ORDA and the U.S. Olympic Committee — without your involvement — have issued an initial invitation to House members and staff to take part in the trip, you may send a follow-up to that invitation", the ethics panel, known formally as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, wrote to Sweeney.[22]

Invitations to the event officially come from ORDA and the U.S. Olympic Committee, a nonprofit group chartered by Congress. ORDA says the impetus for the event comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee. The U.S. Olympic Committee said it's really Sweeney's event.[19] Three committees of the NY State Assembly have launched investigations of the Challenge, focusing on whether public money was put to good use. ORDA President Ted Blazer, speaking at one such hearing, said Sweeney's office helped assemble lists of possible invitees to the event.[22]

Documents show that at least eight members of Congress, all Republicans, were also invited to attend the 2006 event but declined.[22]

The official invitation for the event read: "While this trip has proven itself to be an enjoyable one for delegation members in the past, it is, nevertheless, an official trip authorized by the House and Senate Ethics Committees . . . intended to provide an opportunity for Members of Congress and Congressional staff to inspect and evaluate the manner in which federal funds have been used to strengthen the area's tourism industry."[19]

Despite the House ethics rule requiring all travel paid by others to relate to members' official duties, and the ethic panel's letter that said that recreational activities must be "merely incidental to the trip", Sweeney has said that the panel said "it's perfectly appropriate for me to promote the event."[22]

The group attending the event included at least 15 registered lobbyists, including Pete Card, a former staffer of Sweeney's and the brother of former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and Lisi Kaufman, a lobbyist for United Technologies Corporation, the sister of Andrew and Pete.[19][20][23] In his request to the House ethics committee, Sweeney did not ask about lobbyists.[24] A spokesman for ORDA said he does not know why the lobbyists were invited.[20]

Seven of the lobbyists had contributed a total of $12,400 to Sweeney's campaign in 2005.[25]

Domestic violence report[edit]

On October 31, 2006, the Albany Times Union reported that it had obtained a document stating that "[t]he wife of U.S. Rep. John Sweeney called police last December to complain her husband was 'knocking her around' during a late-night argument at the couple's home." The responding officers filed a domestic incident report. The report states that Sweeney grabbed his wife "by the neck" and pushed her around the house.[26]

On November 2, 2006, the Albany Times Union reported that on October 31, John and Gaia Sweeney said they would give the New York State Police permission to release a report about the incident. They said that the report was inaccurate but have not disputed its contents.[27] On November 17, 2006, the Times Union reported that there were two versions of the domestic violence report that had been prepared by the state police, one that was sent to them, doctored and lacking details, and the original report.[28]

On July 22, 2007, the Albany Times Union reported that Gaia Sweeney, who was contesting a divorce action by her husband, said that he was often verbally abusive and at times physically abused her during their marriage. She also said that a statement she made on the eve of last fall's election, denying marital abuse, was "coerced". Sweeney denied that he had been abusive; he had recently obtained a judicial order of protection against his wife.[29]

November 2007 DWI[edit]

Sweeney was charged with aggravated DWI (driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs) when he was arrested by New York State Police at 1:19 a.m. on November 11, 2007. The arrest occurred on the Adirondack Northway, a stretch of Interstate 87 that runs between Albany and Lacolle, Quebec, Canada. A law enforcement source said Sweeney's car had been swerving and that a 24-year-old woman was seated partially on his lap when spotted by a state trooper.[30] The police reported "he had a woman on his lap when he was pulled over."[1][31] Sweeney's blood alcohol content registered at .18 percent, more than double the legal limit.[31] In Rensselaer County NY Sweeney had been the STOP-DWI coordinator.[1] Sweeney issued a statement later that day stating: "I regret the occurrence. I deeply apologize to my family and friends. I take full responsibility and I am hoping to work for a fair resolution."[30]

On November 14, 2007, Sweeney pleaded guilty to drunk driving after his attorney vocally and publicly denied he had even been drinking that evening. Sweeny paid a US$1,000 fine, but did not have to spend any time in jail. His license was suspended for six months and had to attend a victim impact panel for drunken drivers.[32]

April 2009 DWI arrest[edit]

Early on the morning of April 5, 2009, Sweeney was pulled over by state police for speeding.[1] He refused a breathalyzer test ordered by the officer, and according to a newspaper report, "Sweeney allegedly told the officers he would not pass the sobriety test, adding he was in 'big trouble.'"[1] He was charged with felony DWI, since Sweeney has had a prior DWI conviction within the past 10 years.[1] On August 14, 2009 a grand jury indicted Sweeney on felony charges and he was sentenced on April 23 to 30 days of jail time.

As part of his punishment, Sweeney had to wear a device 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that detects alcohol. He performed 300 hours of community service in the form of pro bono legal work and pay a $1,000 fine, said Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne, who handled the case as a special prosecutor. Sweeney also served three years of probation.[33]

Ties to Allen Stanford[edit]

Sweeney was part of a group of lawmakers known as the Caribbean Caucus, sponsored by disgraced financier Allen Stanford. The group, formed to promote relations with Caribbean nations, took 11 trips to places like St. Croix, Montego Bay and Key Biscayne. The meetings, which included receptions with lobster, caviar and wine, were paid for by the Inter-American Economic Council, a non-profit funded by Stanford and totaled $311,307 in costs. Other members of the Caucus included convicted influence peddler Rep. Bob Ney and close Sweeney friend Rep. Pete Sessions. In 2004, Stanford hosted a wedding reception for Sweeney and his 34-year-old girlfriend at the Pavilion Restaurant, owned by Stanford. At the time, Sweeney told the Antigua Sun “If it wasn’t for Allen, I certainly would not be here today."[34]

Personal life[edit]

Sweeney has three children from his first marriage. He lives in Clifton Park, New York. He is also divorced from his second wife, Gayle. .[35][36]

Sweeney's father was the leader of a shirt-cutter's union in Troy, NY.[37]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bob Gardiner, "Sweeney to cops: 'I'm in... trouble': Ex-Congressman faces felony DWI; told troopers he'd flunk sobriety test," Albany Times Union found at Times Union story of 4-7-09. Accessed April 7, 2009.
  2. ^ Joseph Crowley, "New Faces in the Congress", New York Times, November 4, 1998
  3. ^ Jonathan P. Hicks, "New York's Congressional Freshmen Are New to the House, but Not to Politics", New York Times, November 7, 1998
  4. ^ a b c d "John Sweeney on the Issues". Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  5. ^ O'Brien, Tim (2006-06-11). "Race is framed by ties to Bush". Albany Times-Union. Retrieved 2006-07-22. [dead link]
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Hinchey-Rohrabacher Roll Call Vote, 2006". Retrieved 2006-11-01. 
  8. ^ "H.R. 4691: To prohibit certain abortion-related discrimination in governmental activities (Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2002)". Library of Congress. 2002-09-30. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  9. ^ "Hudson River PCB Report Card". Environmental Advocates of New York. 2003-02-05. Archived from the original on February 13, 2005. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  10. ^ "Insider News (Taking control in 2006)". EMILY's List. 2006-05-19. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ CREW summary of ethics issues of Sweeney, September 2006
  13. ^ Robert Parry, "Bush's Conspiracy to Riot", Consortium for Independent Journalism, August 5, 2002
  14. ^ Michael Tomasky, "Pol Versus Pole", New York Magazine, March 19, 2001
  15. ^ Timothy Noah, "Sweeney and the Siege of Miami", Slate Magazine, November 28, 2000
  16. ^ [1] Newsday, September 18, 2003
  17. ^ Elizabeth Benjamin, "For politicians, family ties can include payroll: Sweeney's wife is among the ranks of relatives on legislators' staffs", Albany Times-Union, May 8, 2005
  18. ^ "Judy Holland, On the Hill, the sound of silence: John Sweeney, still reeling from re-election loss to Kirsten Gillibrand, fails to show for votes", Albany Times-Union, December 10, 2006
  19. ^ a b c d e Breidenbach, Michelle (2006-03-26). "Congressmen, staff, lobbyists share a winter weekend on public's dime". Syracuse Post-Standard. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  20. ^ a b c "Guess who came to dinner; guess who paid". Syracuse Post-Standard. 2006-03-30. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  21. ^ Rauch, Ned P. (2006-07-11). "Legitimacy of ORDA event questioned". Retrieved 2006-07-22. [dead link]
  22. ^ a b c d e Schor, Elana (2006-07-18). "State Assembly questions funding of Sweeney's trips to Lake Placid". The Hill. Retrieved 2006-07-22. [dead link]
  23. ^ Karlin, Rick (2006-06-21). "Capitol Confidential — Yes, There Will Be News In July". Albany Times-Union blog. Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  24. ^ Benjamin, Elizabeth (2006-07-11). "Capitol Confidential — ORDA/NYPA et al.". Albany Times-Union blog. Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  25. ^ Thompson, Maury (2006-04-03). "Sweeney ski guests contributed $12,400 to his re-election campaign (web page Google cached)". The Post-Star. Retrieved 2006-07-23. 
  26. ^ Lyons, Brendan (2006-10-31). "Congressman's wife called 911". Albany Times Union. Archived from the original on December 13, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  27. ^ [2]
  28. ^ Lyons, Brendan J. (2006-11-17). "Bid to 'lock up' Sweeney report described". Albany Times Union. Retrieved 2006-11-17. [dead link]
  29. ^ Gurnett, Kate (2006-07-22). "Sweeney's wife claims he abused her: Says she fears for her life and that election eve denial was "coerced"". Albany Times Union. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-25. 
  30. ^ a b [3] Mahoney, Joe (2006-11-11). "Former Rep. John Sweeney charged with aggravated DWI". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  31. ^ a b Robert Gavin, "Source: Sweeney passenger a shock: Arresting State Police officers in DWI case surprised to find a woman on ex-congressman's lap", Albany Times Union, November 14, 2007
  32. ^ Robert Gavin, "Sweeney makes plea, apologies: Ex-congressman fined $1,000, has license suspended for driving drunk", Albany Times Union, November 15, 2007.
  33. ^ Donohue, Emily (April 23, 2010). "Former Rep. John Sweeney officially sentenced for second DWI". The Saratogian. Retrieved April 16, 2015. 
  34. ^ Sallah, Michael; Barry, Rob (2009-12-27). "Feds probe banker Allen Stanford's ties to Congress". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2009-12-27. 
  35. ^ Benjamin, Elizabeth (2006-03-30). "Capitol Confidential — Circling Sweeney". Albany Times-Union blog. Retrieved 2006-07-22. 
  36. ^ Holland, Judy (2006-06-18). "Sweeney urged to elect to kick smoking habit". Albany Times-Union. Retrieved 2006-07-22. [dead link]
  37. ^ James Dao, " Pataki Picks New Labor and Utility Chiefs", New York Times, January 7, 1995

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Gerald B. H. Solomon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 22nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Maurice D. Hinchey
Preceded by
Benjamin A. Gilman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 20th congressional district

Succeeded by
Kirsten Gillibrand