Center wins first Pulitzer!

Black lung investigation honored

Get more award-winning investigations:

Former congressman — a practicing lawyer — may be breaking campaign reporting laws

Debt-riddled ex-Rep. John E. Sweeney must still file disclosures, agency says

By

 Updated:

Just because you want to terminate your all-but-defunct congressional committee doesn't mean you can ignore federal regulators — particularly when you're still sitting on a truckload of debt.

So the Federal Election Commission is telling former Rep. John E. Sweeney, R-N.Y., whose congressional career ended in 2007 after now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., stymied his re-election bid. 

In a letter this month to Sweeney, FEC Assistant Staff Director Deborah Chacona demanded his incommunicado congressional re-election committee file a mandatory report disclosing its financial activity from July through September.  

"It is important that you file this report immediately," Chacona wrote on Nov. 1. "The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action."

To date, Sweeney, who has faced a host of personal troubles since leaving Congress, has not replied to the FEC's demand, agency records show. He served jail time in 2010 after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated for the second time in three years and now works as a lawyer at Tully Rinckey PLLC representing clients targeted by congressional investigations.

The last time Sweeney formally contacted the FEC was on June 27 when Sweeney, who serves as his own campaign trasurer, filed a report with the FEC in which he asked to terminate his committee.

Two weeks later, the FEC wrote him back. No way, an agency official said. 

"Based on information you provided in your termination report, it appears that you have not yet met the requirements for terminating your committee," Senior Campaign Finance and Reviewing Analyst Jill Sugarman wrote, adding that he "must extinguish or settle all outstanding debts and obligations."

Sweeney's deadbeat campaign has done nothing during the past six years to retire this debt, FEC records indicate.

At the end of 2007, the committee reported $223,587.19 in debt. By mid-2013, the amount hadn't budged one cent, records show. Sweeney's committee lists 14 creditors who are collectively owed the cash.

Among them: the New Jersey-based Traz Group ($118,955) for direct mail services and Virginia-based Bellwether Consulting Group ($20,376) for event catering. Two law firms — McGuire Woods LLP and Williams & Jensen PLLC — are also owed back pay for legal services.

Sweeney did not return messages seeking comment. Stephen T. Felano, a spokesman for Tully Rinckey, directed inquiries back to Sweeney.

(Update, Nov. 15, 3:58 p.m.: In an interview this afternoon with the Albany Times-Union, Sweeney says he wasn't aware the FEC had rejected his request to terminate his congressional committee.

"I was operating under the assumption that it was closed. I consider it a nullity,” Sweeney told reporter Jordan Carleo-Evangelist. “I wasn’t aware that they had rejected our request to close, so I’m going to have to look into that.” Asked how he intends to pay off his debt, Sweeney replied, "I guess I could run for office.”)