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Candidate’s History of Disrespecting Women Raises Ethical Concerns

Former Doheny staffer reveals mistreatment of females on campaign

Matt Doheny
Matt Doheny / AP
• June 10, 2014 2:10 pm

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Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny has a history of disrespecting women on his campaign staff, raising new ethical concerns about his candidacy for a seat he has failed to win multiple times, critics say.

Doheny is running in the Republican primary to represent New York’s 21st congressional district, the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D., N.Y.). Republicans view the mostly rural, historically GOP-leaning district as a potential pickup in the fall to bolster their House majority.

However, critics of Doheny’s campaign say his troubling record of improper campaign management and mistreatment of a female staffer again threatens to derail his candidacy. Doheny, a wealthy investor, has previously tried and failed three times to win the district in New York’s North Country.

Alicia Sirk, a former volunteer coordinator and director of campaign operations for Doheny’s 2012 campaign, said in an interview that Doheny refused to pay her back wages and reimbursements for her campaign work while reimbursing other male staffers multiple times. She was also paid less than male staffers who worked under her, she said.

Doheny claimed that Sirk was an "independent contractor" rather than a full employee and therefore not entitled to the payments, forcing Sirk to seek a resolution from the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL), she said.

An administrative law judge ruled in March 2013 that Sirk was in fact an employee of Doheny’s and entitled to more than $34,000 in payments, according to legal documents provided to the Washington Free Beacon by Sirk. Doheny also paid $1,275 to the NYSDOL in May 2013 for an "employee matter resolution," according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

"I waited over two years before I collected money he owed me," she said. "I have a family; I had children. He was saying my family had to go without because they refused to pay me."

Sirk claimed that Doheny has still not paid interest and penalties also related to the case. She also submitted a form to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to determine whether Doheny paid taxes with the $1,200 per month that he withheld from Sirk’s salary.

Sirk said she is coming forward now to expose the "fallacy" that Doheny’s business acumen qualifies him to be a congressman despite his past troubles with routine campaign payments.

She also provided emails in which Doheny repeatedly used profane language to instruct her to do things, such as "no fucking excuses" and "stop fucking arguing with me." A former intern and volunteer for Doheny’s campaign said in a signed affidavit that Doheny would publicly refer to her as "one of my top staffers/team members" but privately treat her in a "despicable" manner, whereas male staffers were treated differently.

Additionally, Sirk said Doheny is stalling on a disputed workers’ compensation claim she filed and is again saying that she was an independent contractor rather than an employee. The claim stems from a February 2012 motor vehicle accident where Sirk’s car fishtailed and flipped over an icy road while she was en route from Plattsburgh to Cape Vincent for a campaign event. Doheny told her she had "better be there" despite the concerns she raised to him about the blizzard-like conditions, she said.

Sirk said Doheny’s conduct during his 2012 campaign raises a number of ethical issues and called it his "war on women."

"We have enough crooks in Congress as it is," she said. "And we certainly don’t need to add another one to it."

Doheny is squaring off in the primary against Elise Stefanik, a small businesswoman and former economic and domestic policy staffer for the George W. Bush administration. Stefanik has secured endorsements from 11 of the 12 GOP county committees in the district and elected officials such as Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.). She served as director of debate prep for Ryan when he ran for vice president in 2012.

David Catalfamo, spokesman for Doheny’s campaign, said in an email that Sirk "is a former disgruntled‎ campaign aide who was fired and is now an active supporter of the Stefanik campaign." He added that Sirk filed the workers’ compensation claim 10 months after her accident, making it "reasonable to assess its validity with a 3rd party."

Sirk denied that she was working with the Stefanik campaign. She said her public outreach is "entirely about Matt Doheny and his campaign" and events that occurred before the current race. She was promoted and promised a bonus before leaving the campaign in July 2012, she said, and she was unable to file the compensation claim until the dispute over her back wages and reimbursements was resolved.

A member of Doheny’s county leadership team, Paul Ryan (no relation to the congressman and former vice presidential candidate), also landed in hot water recently for tweeting a disparaging comment about Stefanik and then deleting it.

"The tweet about Elise shows a pattern of disrespect for women stemming directly from Doheny himself, going through his ranks, his leadership teams and ending with his most random supporter," said a source familiar with the district.

Catalfamo said focusing on the tweets of candidates’ supporters is "inane" and noted that Stefanik supporters have also tweeted unflattering comments about what they say are Doheny’s ethical lapses.

Ethical issues also plagued Doheny’s 2012 and 2010 campaigns. A video in 2012 surfaced of him groping a female staffer and another woman and kissing one outside a Washington, D.C., restaurant; neither was his fiancée. Reports also emerged of his previous charges of boating under the influence and lawsuits related to missing rent payments on New York City apartments.

The GOP primary is June 24. The winner will face Democrat Aaron Woolf, a filmmaker.

Published under: 2014 Election