Joe Bruno and the Life Fantastic

The divine rights of an Albany powerbroker

The question now is whether Bruno's former legislative colleagues are sufficiently shamed by the trial's revelations to finally do something about it. Pending in the legislature is a bill that would close some of the loopholes that Bruno so thoroughly exploited in order to keep his lucrative private-consultant work a secret. Bruno never had to publicly disclose just how much he was earning in outside income. The new bill would at least let us see what category he fell into: $250,000 or more? $1 million or above?

Likewise, Bruno wasn't obligated to say if any of his clients happened to be lobbyists with business pending before the legislature that he was in a position to assist. The new bill would disclose those ties. Also for the first time, a new legislative ethics commission would actually be charged with investigating—by random audit—the annual financial disclosure forms filed by lawmakers. Thanks to the Bruno trial, we now know that legislative leaders worried not at all about deceiving state regulators. But Bruno had his counsel instruct members of his Republican caucus never to send their statements through the U.S. mail, lest they fall prey to federal fraud statutes.

"It was all pretty shocking," says bill sponsor Daniel Squadron, the first-term senator representing Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, of the Bruno trial. "We shouldn't have to rely on the feds for enforcement."

The bill would also break up the state's current Commission on Public Integrity, created by former governor Eliot Spitzer, divvying up its chores among new separate arms to monitor lobbyists and state workers. This would supposedly boost ethics enforcement firepower, but it is an odd way to respond to the Bruno scandal. In recent months, the commission sanctioned several powerful unions that had hosted expensive soirees where legislators were wined and dined. It took the added and unprecedented step of sending the names of the legislators who attended over to the current Legislative Ethics Commission for possible action. "There is this sense of entitlement out there, and we have been trying to change the culture," says commission director Barry Ginsberg.

trobbins@villagevoice.com

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