- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

ESSINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Democrats’ effort to oust a seven-term Republican lawmaker carried over to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, when a top state lawmaker boycotted an event because the sponsor had donated to the congressman.

Senate President Steve Sweeney declined to appear at the Democratic State Committee’s breakfast he was expected to headline Wednesday because PSE&G; gave a political contribution to U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, who has been cited in news reports as declining to support a committee that backed gay candidates. Garrett disputes the reports.

“Congressman Garrett’s callous disregard for the LGBTQ community cannot go unanswered or unchallenged,” Sweeney said in a statement.

The utility company, the state’s largest electricity provider, has made thousands in political contributions over the past year to both Democrats and Republicans, including $2,500 to Garrett in May, according to the Federal Election Commission. The utility and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers sponsored the Wednesday breakfast, a schmooze-fest for New Jersey Democrats during the convention in Philadelphia.

Sweeney, a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2017, was expected to be the headliner but announced on Sunday that he was pulling out over PSE&G;’s donations to Garrett. He doubled-down on the boycott Wednesday morning.

The issue goes back to news reports last year that cited Garrett as saying he would not support the National Republican Campaign Committee because it backed gay candidates.

Garrett campaign manager Sarah Neibart said Sweeney was acting on the orders of Josh Gottheimer, Garrett’s Democratic challenger. She disputed any allegation that Garrett was anti-gay.

“Congressman Garrett has repeatedly denied this accusation - on the record. The press needs to hold officials like Steve Sweeney accountable for the lies they manufacture,” she said.

Gottheimer spokesman Jeff Raines said the congressman is blaming everyone but himself for his “bigoted” comments.

“It’s well past time for him to own his ignorant comment and take responsibility for his extremism,” Raines said in a statement.

PSE&G; said in a statement that it will engage in an “ongoing dialogue” with leaders of the LGBT community.

“We also want to be clear that we are very committed to supporting our LGBT employees and customers and believe our record in this area speaks for itself,” the company said in a statement.

Democratic Assemblyman Tim Eustace, one of Garrett’s top antagonizers, spoke at the breakfast and said PSE&G; “assured us” the company wouldn’t support the congressman’s re-election effort.

Garrett, a conservative elected to Congress in 2002, represents the 5th District in northern New Jersey. Democrats have marked him for defeat before but have always failed. Now they believe that comments attributed to Garrett in last year’s news stories are enough to defeat him.

Gottheimer has put the comments at the center of his campaign, and Democratic state lawmakers, including Eustace, have picketed businesses that donated to Garrett.

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