Sweeney official admits `error'

Spokeswoman retracts charge that Gillibrand ``bought her way into'' politics with donations

TIM O'BRIEN Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Correction: Correction published September 29, 2006 The main headline and summary headline on a story on the page B1 Thursday about the 20th Congressional District race stated that Maureen O'Brien Donovan, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, admitted to an erroneous claim. Donovan was quoted a day earlier as saying that Sweeney's Democratic opponent, Kirsten Gillibrand, had made ``hundreds of thousands of dollars'' in campaign donations and ``bought her way into'' politics with them. In fact, Gillibrand has made less than $50,000 in donations to political committees since 1996. Donovan in Thursday's story is quoted as saying, ``it was an error.'' She added: ``I don't know if I said it or it was an error in translation.'' Donovan now states that she never admitted to any error, as the headline and first paragraph of the story stated. Rather, she believes that the reporter transcribed her remarks incorrectly. The reporter believes he accurately quoted Donovan in the story. The subhead, which stated that Donovan retracted the remark, was incorrect. She did not. Donovan also asserts that Sweeney gave $44,000 to other candidates. Federal records show Sweeney, using his campaign committee, has actually donated more than $286,000, most of it to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports individual GOP candidates. Gillibrand's contributions also include funds given to party committees.

U.S. Rep. John Sweeney's spokeswoman conceded Wednesday she erred in describing how much money Kirsten Gillibrand has donated to political candidates.

In fact, Sweeney - through his campaign committee - has given hundreds of thousands of dollars - not his opponent as Sweeney's campaign had claimed. Responding to the news that Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat, would appear at a fundraiser for Gillibrand, Maureen O'Brien told the Times Union Tuesday: "Kirsten Gillibrand has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates across the country. She's bought her way into the system, and they are clearly paying her back."

Gillibrand spokeswoman Allison Price said Donovan lied; Donovan said it was a mistake.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Gillibrand has donated $33,425 since 1996.

The FEC shows that Sweeney has given $286,296, with most of the money going to the National Republican Congressional Committee. The money came not from Sweeney as an individual, but from his congressional committee, Sweeney for Congress.

State Board of Elections records show Gillibrand donated $14,880 to statewide political races. Sweeney for Congress donated $39,705.

"If you voted for George Bush 100 percent of the time on Iraq and were just named one of the most corrupt members of Congress by a bipartisan group, you'd have to lie Please see 20TH B12 to get re-elected too," Price said.

Sweeney was named one of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. While the group contends it is bipartisan, all but three of the top 20 were Republicans and its executive director, Melanie Sloan, worked for both U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Donovan admitted Wednesday the number was too high.

"Tens of thousands; it was an error," she said. "I don't know if I said it or it was an error in translation."

Donovan tried to draw a distinction between individual donations and ones from Sweeney's campaign committee.

"It is not a personal contribution. It is his committee giving money to other candidates," she said.

Price said Gillibrand has especially focused on trying to involve more women in politics.

"Kirsten has been active in helping and supporting women who run for office," she said.

Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5096 or by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com.