Gillibrand Learned How to Defend Tobacco's Dirtiest Secrets as a Young Lawyer

The new senator's from Marlboro County

And then there's her other tobacco connection. Just as Gillibrand's work for Philip Morris was ending in 2000, the company hired her father to represent it on state matters. At the time, veteran lobbyist Douglas Rutnik had a direct line into Governor Pataki's office, since, having divorced Gillibrand's mother, he was living with top Pataki adviser, Zenia Mucha. Rutnik stayed on tobacco's payroll for six years, stepping off only when Pataki left office.

The same archives that list Kirsten Rutnik on more than 1,000 tobacco industry documents also list her father on a few others. For instance, a June 12, 2000, fax from a Philip Morris attorney instructs Doug Rutnik to check with other advisers before meeting about company tax matters with Pataki's counsel, James McGuire. Lobbying records show that, for $6,250 a month, Doug Rutnik pushed Philip Morris's agenda on smoking bans and court damages. "He may also have worked on food issues," an Altria official in Virginia said last week.

This tobacco tie has been overblown as well, insists McEneny. "She doesn't follow her dad's work arm-in-arm, not at all," she says.

Gillibrand voted just last week to hike cigarette taxes to pay for child health insurance. She cites that move, and an earlier one to extend tobacco regulation, as evidence of her independence from the industry. Actually, Altria supported the regulation bill, and she took contributions from company officials shortly after meeting with them on the legislation.

Clifford Douglas, a leading public health advocate who helped drive federal investigations of the industry, said he couldn't help but notice Gillibrand's strong tobacco ties when she was selected last month as New York's new senator. "She wasn't just a worker bee, sitting in a library looking at documents," says Douglas. "She was directly involved in defending Philip Morris and its top scientists against some of the most serious and important issues raised in litigation."

But maybe the new senator was deeply disturbed by what she learned during her tobacco excavations. Was she? "Great question," said McEneny. "Put it in an e-mail, and I'll get it to her for the record." Sadly, the record ended right there.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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