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.