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

Avella worked for the senate as a deputy counsel until he left to become a lobbyist a few years ago, working initially for the Pirro Group, headed by Al Pirro, the notorious Westchester-based felon married to onetime district attorney Jeanine Pirro. He's also worked with lobbyists Jeff Buley and David Dudley, big-time GOP operatives who were named with him in the FEC complaint against the federal committee. Until recently, Avella was married to Lisa Beth Elovich, the daughter of Larry Elovich, a Long Island attorney who was described by former U.S. senator and current GOP lobbyist Al D'Amato as "one of the closest friends I have in the world." Bruno and Pataki rushed Lisa Elovich's appointment to the state parole board through in the final days of Pataki's term last year, and Bruno's committee inexplicably paid her boxing company, Pugnacious Promotions, $7,800 in five separate payments since February 2006. The company is listed at a post-office-box number, and McArdle refused to explain what it does for the committee. Avella is such a political operative that he was paid $135,000 as a consultant to the state party in recent years, in addition to his role running the federal committee.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Troopergate is that it supposedly involves the abuse by Spitzer's aides of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), which the Cuomo report called a "hallmark of good government" whose "integrity" must be protected. The Cuomo theory—partially rebutted in the more recent findings of the Albany district attorney—is that Spitzer's aides violated that integrity when they supposedly told the state police they had a FOIL request before they actually got one, inducing them to turn over records on false pretenses. But, through all these months of controversy, no one has mentioned that Bruno, the self-described victim of this FOIL manipulation, essentially doesn't believe in FOIL himself.

A Voice FOIL request for basic public records for this story was denied by Boggess immediately. When we appealed, it wound up with Avella, who never responded at all. The state's public-access officer, Robert Freeman, says that the legislature passed a law exempting itself from many of the disclosure requirements that apply to other state agencies, but that the assembly then adopted the rules voluntarily, making it subject to the law. That left the senate, alone, as the last FOIL stonewall—so much so that when the senate Democrats wanted to do a comparison of their newsletters and Republican newsletters, Bruno refused to comply with their FOIL request, turning newsletters that are mass-mailed to the public into confidential documents unavailable to Democrats.


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

Similarly, Bruno claimed an absolute legislative privilege in a redistricting case in 2003, refusing to turn over virtually any records revealing how the new district lines were drawn. His privilege claims in that case—particularly as the senate investigations committee prepares to subpoena internal and even private e-mails from Spitzer aides—may become awkward in the coming weeks. A federal magistrate, Frank Maas, ruled against Bruno on his extreme claim, finding that only the "deliberations which took place after the proposed 2002 redistricting plan reached the Legislature's floor" were privileged. Maas found that Bruno personally had so "insufficiently" described the documents he was listing on his "privilege log" that no one could "determine whether particular documents are privileged or not." The judge also criticized Bruno's lawyers for agreeing to a deposition of an expert witness and then canceling it "without consulting the Court," just one of a variety of evasions employed by Bruno to cloak the discussions that framed the new districts.

The litigation was one more indicator of the secrecy that surrounds everything Bruno does, a shield penetrated momentarily by the Spitzer aide's release of his travel itineraries. It was also the starkest revelation of how a party overwhelmed in statewide party registration manages to hold onto a legislative majority. In one-person/one-vote cases, federal courts have increasingly allowed some districts to be either 5 percent smaller or larger than the "ideally-sized district." Bruno took such transparent advantage of this loophole that he managed, in the latest redistricting, to shrink the city's representation and bolster the Republicans' upstate base—even though 76 percent of the state's one million new residents live in the city or its northern suburbs. Bruno did this by designating every downstate district as substantially overpopulated and every upstate one as underpopulated. This allowed him to use the 5 percent deviation in both directions, resulting in nearly a 10 percent difference in population between Republican-leaning upstate districts and Democratic-leaning downstate districts.

That's why, to this day, the foundation of Bruno's majority rests on blatantly undisguised discrimination.

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