The Bruno Files: Exploring the Record of the State Senate Leader Calling for a Spitzer Probe

The immaculate record of the state senate leader calling for investigations of Eliot Spitzer

As extraordinary as these totals are, there's also the $211,381 attributed on the Bruno filings to "Cardmember Services," an affiliate of the World Perks Visa Card; $55,621 to "Commercial Card Solutions," an affiliate of J.P. Morgan Chase; and $26,000 to a third credit-card company. These entities, which are cumulatively listed at five addresses on Bruno reports, "consolidate transactions" and "help manage travel and other miscellaneous expenses" for small businesses. In addition, the committees report $36,507 in "unitemized expenses," often listed by the thousands at the end of a reporting period. The law requires that any expenditure over $50 be specified. Ironically, while two of the committees serve the senate majority, the third—which has spent $4.5 million since 2000—is in business purely to re-elect Bruno himself, in a district where he hasn't faced a real opponent (and sometimes no Democrat at all) in a decade.


Asked to explain a detailed list of the credit-card payments, John McArdle, the senator's spokesman, said that they had been itemized "elsewhere in the filings," which is puzzling because it suggests that the same meal, for example, is listed twice—once as an itemized expense and again as part of a bulk payment. In any event, McArdle insists that the apparently personal use of the committees by Bruno is appropriate. "The expenditures that are listed on the Board of Elections report," he said, "are for expenses that are used either for his election or for maintaining the majority in Albany, and are legitimate, and are within the boundaries established by the board." Of course, the Board of Elections consists of four members nominated equally by the Republican and Democratic party chairs, with one actually appointed by Bruno, and, as such, it is constitutionally incapable of identifying violations of law. Even Bruno himself couldn't get satisfaction from the board: Despite his screaming lately about what he says were the multimillion-dollar illegal loans that Spitzer's father made to his 1994 and 1998 campaigns for attorney general, the board considered the matter and couldn't muster the votes to find a violation.

The Albany Times Union reported in 2000 that Bruno's committee had paid $4,200 for a pool cover, landscaping, and extermination services at his home, an expense that Bruno justified by saying that he used the A-frame behind his house for political meetings. "I spent money making it people-friendly and attractive," said Bruno. McArdle added at the time: "Somebody like Senator Bruno, it's difficult to say where he stops being majority leader." The 2000 story also identified questionable restaurant and Florida expenses, which were then a fraction of what they are now.

Details

Additional research assistance by Benjamin Bright, Danielle Schiffman, Adrienne Gaffney, Benjamin Greenberg, Jan Ransom, Samuel Rubenfeld, Ethan Strauss, and Tom Wiedeman.

The helicopter flights that have been the subject of so much controversy also highlight the indifference to the confluence of public, political, and personal interests in Bruno's life. Aboard the state aircraft for one or more of these 2007 trips with Bruno were aides Ed Lurie, Kris Thompson, Steve Boggess, and Mike Avella. All of them are on the senate payroll—in jobs whose salaries go to $190,000. But all of them also wear political hats that make it impossible to decipher if they were on the choppers to go to the senator's infrequent state meetings on those trips or to party fundraisers. Lurie is the executive director of the senate GOP campaign committee at the same time that he is director of the senate's office of legislative services, making him the simultaneous dispenser of political and public largesse to members of Bruno's majority conference. That makes it all the easier to use state discretionary grants—including millions in member items—to lure Democrats to switch to the GOP, a tactic that Bruno has used repeatedly even as he deplores Spitzer's efforts to get Republican senators to do the same. Kris Thompson, the least prominent of the four, used to be a press aide to Bruno's son when Ken Bruno was the local district attorney, and is reportedly a friend of the family's.

Boggess is charged in a pending lawsuit—filed by Thomas Dadey Jr., an unsuccessful Republican senate candidate from Syracuse—with repeatedly threatening Dadey's job if he persisted in running in a senate primary, asking if Dadey "knew what was at stake" and mentioning Dadey's "responsibility to provide" for his two- and three-year-old daughters. Immediately after Dadey informed his employer—a state engineering contractor who makes regular contributions to the senate GOP—that he was staying in the race, he was fired. As secretary of the senate, Boggess has authorized the censoring of the newsletters of Democratic members, removing observations like "There's a long way to go toward making the legislature a truly deliberative body." Boggess prints Republicans newsletters on four-color, glossy stock and Democratic newsletters on two-color, plain stock.

The most political passenger, however, was Avella, who became the senate's chief counsel early this year and interacted with Andrew Cuomo's office throughout the recent investigation of the Bruno flights and the supposed Spitzer smear. Avella was the treasurer of the state GOP's federal committee, which finances campaigns across the state for federal offices, when it was fined $128,000 by the Federal Elections Commission in 2000—the largest fine imposed on a state party in history. The FEC found that Avella and others "failed to report proper purposes for disbursement, failed to report the names of recipients and made cash payments over federal limits" totaling $82,500 to election-day workers. But being the named defendant for that committee's violation was no bar to his becoming Bruno's counsel. And neither, apparently, was his more recent DWI bust. Avella, chief counsel to a law-and-order GOP conference, had his driver's license suspended from 2004 to 2005 after he rammed a vehicle slowing for a red light and pleaded guilty to a DWI charge.

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