Murray Sabrin, PhD raised questions about Senate President Steve Sweeney’s potentially conflicting roles as a labor leader and state legislator months before he considered running for U.S. Senate. If his ethics complaint is politically motivated, the complaint itself was not made to boost his Senate candidacy. But the fact that he is shedding a public light on it now, over three months after he first raised the issue, is an effort to raise his public profile to support his candidacy.
But if Sabrin thought his efforts against Sweeney would help him garner support with the GOP establishment for the Senate nomination, he is mistaken. Former Acting Govenor/Senate President Don DiFrancesco, still a power player in the establishment, defended Sweeney in the Chasing New Jersey report (video below) that brought Sabrin’s complaint to public light.
Sabrin says that Sweeney’s employment as General Vice President of the International Association of Iron Workers, where he earns over $200,000 per year, is a conflict with his role as Senate President because he lobbies senators that he overseas.
DiFrancesco told Chasing New Jersey’s Sibile Marcellus that Sweeney is “not lobbying the legislature, he’s in government relations.”
MMM asked DiFrancesco what, in his view, the difference is between lobbying and government relations. The former Acting Governor responded, “He (Sweeney) is not being paid to lobby to the legislature.”
But in his correspondence last October with Maci Levin Hochman, Ethics Counsel for the Office of Legislative Services (letter to Hochman attached here) and in December to members of the Joint Committee on Ethical Standards (complaint letter here), Sabrin makes the case that the iron workers union paid Sweeney $245,421 to lobby the legislature from 2009 through 2012. Union disclosures report that Sweeney spent between 30% and 38% of his union work lobbying in 2009-2012. He is not registered as a lobbyist in Washington with the House of Representatives or the Senate, nor is he registered as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Sweeney was the prime sponsor of two Senate Bills that directly benefited the union.
Sweeney didn’t answer Marcellus’ multiple phone calls about Sabrin’s complaint. She should try #AskSenPres on twitter today.
Unless the media starts scrutinizing Sweeney the way they are scrutinizing Governor Christie and Bridgegate, the Senate President has nothing to fear from a Joint Committee on Ethical Standards investigation into Sabrin’s complaint. Sweeney appointed his friend, former State Supreme Court Justice John Wallace to chair the committee last July. Wallace was the Justice that Christie refused to reappoint, leading to the deadlock with Sweeney over Supreme Court appointments that has resulted in New Jersey having a Supreme Court with 2-3 temporary Justices for most of the last four years. The committee for the 2014-2015 legislative session has yet to meet.