Two powerful New York state legislators issued a scathing report Friday about a publicly funded annual ski weekend that Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) has used to bring Congressional leaders, lobbyists and campaign contributors to upstate New York.
The state lawmakers, in addition to releasing the report, extracted a promise from the organizations that host the ski weekend that they will take control of the invitation process away from Sweeney.
The release of the potentially embarrassing report comes as Sweeney is embroiled in a bare-knuckle fight for a fifth term.
Sweeney said several months ago that he merely makes recommendations about the guest list to the sponsors of the weekend getaway. In a statement released late Friday, Sweeney’s chief of staff disputed some of the report’s conclusions, and said the Congressman continues to aggressively champion the interests of the Olympic facilities in his district.
The 42-page report was issued by two Democrats, Richard Brodsky, chairman of the state Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, and Paul Tonko, chairman of the Assembly Energy Committee. It came in the wake of media reports earlier this year that the weekends, which are designed to bring Congressional leaders and other policymakers to the Olympic ski resorts near Lake Placid, N.Y., had become a vehicle for federal officials to entertain their friends and donors rather than a way to win government funding for the upstate region.
The annual ski trip, known as the Congressional Winter Challenge, began in 1998, is sponsored by New York’s Olympic Regional Development Authority and the United States Olympic Committee. It is largely underwritten by the Power Authority of New York, which is, like the Olympic development authority, a quasi-public agency that receives state funding.
But according to the Assembly report, Sweeney essentially controlled the invitation process, stocking the weekend guest list with Republican colleagues and staffers, lobbyists and campaign contributors. The lawmakers drafting the report concluded that invitations “were extended on partisan, personal and political basis,” and said Sweeney and his staff refused to cooperate with the Legislature’s investigation.
“The relationship between these lobbyists and ORDA’s work and operation are at best unclear,” the legislators wrote. “In many cases there is no known connection. It appears clear, however, that many of the lobbyists invited to the CWC were active supporters of, and contributors to, Congressman Sweeney, and others were personally and/or politically close to the Congressman.”
The report went on to note that federal funding for ORDA has declined every year since the ski weekend was first organized: from $2,750,000 in 1999 to $345,642 this year.
Sean O’Neill, Sweeney’s chief of staff, said the Congressman has secured $19 million for the Lake Placid region since entering the House in 1999.
“Congressman Sweeney’s efforts to bring federal funds to an important economic engine for the North Country and the surrounding area will continue, as will his commitment to supporting the Olympic movement,” O’Neill said. “While USOC and ORDA have always maintained full control over the invite list, Congressman Sweeney is confident that ORDA and the USOC will continue to promote Lake Placid in the best possible manner and he looks forward to a positive continued relationship that benefits the North Country economy.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.