Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bruno Quits Job at Financial Firm Where Unions Were Investors

ALBANY — Joseph L. Bruno, the State Senate majority leader, has resigned from his job at a financial firm three weeks after it was revealed that the firm manages tens of millions of dollars for labor unions in and around his district.

Mr. Bruno, whose outside business interests are under federal investigation, worked for Wright Investors’ Service for more than a decade. But neither Mr. Bruno nor Wright officials have been willing to disclose precisely what Mr. Bruno did for the firm or provide a list of its clients.

The New York Times reported on Dec. 1 that six labor union locals, mostly from the Albany area and including several with interests before the State Legislature, invested pension or health fund money with Wright. No evidence has surfaced suggesting that Mr. Bruno pressured or encouraged the unions to invest with the firm.

In a statement released on Friday, Mr. Bruno, the state’s top Republican, said the decision to sever relations with Wright came “after several weeks of discussion.”

“I have done so because the focus on my outside interests has taken attention away from more pressing issues, such as our efforts to address the critical needs of our state going forward,” the statement said.

A statement released by a Wright spokesman noted that most New York State legislators had part-time outside employment. Still, it said, “Given the current environment, in which such employment is often viewed in a negative light, it is likely that questions will continue to be raised about Mr. Bruno’s employment.”

This week, Wright, which is based in Milford, Conn., hired a corporate and crisis communications specialist to handle inquiries from the press. Officials have declined to say whether they have been approached by federal investigators or received subpoenas.

Mr. Bruno began working for Wright as a consultant in March 1994. Nine months later he became majority leader, and in 1998 he was made a salaried Wright employee.

Under state ethics law, legislators must list any outside employers on ethics filings, but are not required to disclose to the public what work they perform or how much they are paid. Government watchdog groups have long advocated further restrictions or an outright ban on outside jobs for legislators.

In a radio interview this month, Mr. Bruno defended his work at Wright, and suggested it was drawing scrutiny only because of his continuing feud with Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat.

“Why is The New York Times singling me out with my other income, which I have a legal right to earn?” he asked. Mr. Bruno added: “That’s personal. They like to take a whack at me; they’re the extreme liberals out there, and they love Spitzer, and because I’m having problems with him, they love to take a whack at me any chance they get.”

Russ Haven, the legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, said in an interview that Mr. Bruno’s decision to leave Wright “removes the appearance of conflict. But it doesn’t address the larger problem of legislative disclosure, and the fact that many lawmakers have significant business and professional interests that may raise conflicts.”

Mr. Bruno has been an unusually stalwart ally of unions, especially for a Republican, and has forged a range of ties with local union leaders.

Records reviewed by The Times since the Dec. 1 article show that eight Albany area unions have had money invested with Wright at various times in the past decade.

An examination of state records and tax documents also reveals that several officials at the unions that invested with Wright also intersected with Mr. Bruno, whether by making political donations, by lobbying or by receiving state money disbursed at his discretion.

Three of the unions’ political action committees contributed to Mr. Bruno’s campaign fund. Four trustees at the unions, who help decide how to invest the unions’ money, were longtime political supporters of Mr. Bruno and some had endorsements listed on his campaign Web site.

Wolfgang Hammer, a longtime ally of Mr. Bruno’s whose name appeared on the site, ran a local branch of the union Unite Here until recently and was a trustee of two pension funds that invested money with Wright. Asked this week if he was aware of Mr. Bruno’s role there, Mr. Hammer said: “No comment, don’t even push it. No comment.”

He and two family members were ousted from leadership positions this month.

Some leaders of union locals also lobbied the State Senate. Kevin Hicks, a prominent carpenters’ union official until recently, was a trustee of three pension funds that invested with Wright and also personally lobbied the Senate on a wide range of issues, according to state records. Mr. Hicks recently retired from the carpenters’ union and took a job in labor relations with the Spitzer administration. He declined to comment.

Wright also handled money for the New York District Council of Carpenters pension fund. A spokeswoman for that local, based in New York City, said its officials were not aware of Mr. Bruno’s role at Wright. Senate Republicans secured $50,000 for a technical college affiliated with the council in the 2005 budget. John E. McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno, said any such grants “were for legitimate governmental purposes.”

Several union officials said in interviews this week that they did not know Mr. Bruno worked for Wright, while others declined to discuss the matter. One union official whose pension fund has done business with Wright, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was aware that Mr. Bruno worked there but said he had never been solicited by him for investments.

“It was common knowledge for me, and I knew a few other people knew it, but I’ve never had any pressure put on me,” the official said.

3 comments:

  1. It is funny that the Unions claim not to have more than a casual relationship with Bruno. Yet Kevin Hicks had a retirement Party in October and who was to be a speaker. Why Joe Bruno himself. It is also funny that Hicks got a job with the State NYS/CSEA Partnership for $74,000 a year which was down from the $200,000plus in salary and Pension he was due from the Carpenters Union. Three days after the investigator from the EBSA showed up at the Local 370 Union Hall Hicks announced his retirement. You see the EBSA is conducting an investigation into Hicks and his cronies in the Empire Council for Title 1 ERISA violations.
    Now I am sure Hicks had the job lined up but one has to wonder how a Bruno man got a job from Spitzer. Perhaps we need to look at the rumors of the Harold Ickes-NYS/CSEA Partnership connection. You all remember Harold Ickes. He is the Lawyer at Meyer, Suozzi, English, & Klein, PC who along with Paterson handles the legal for the Pension and Health Funds. Put "Ickes" in Google and see what comes up to meet his special friends.

    It is quite odd also that Bruno also solicited Tom Suozzi to run as a Republican instead of a Democrat against Spitzer.How many times did Bruno publicly declare that he and the Republicans were "Talking to Tom" Now we know that Tom is none other than Tom Suozzi the Unions Lawyer and the Boss of Harold Ickes who as stated is the Legal for the Health ,Pension and Welfare Funds. Seems that Bruno has a cozy relationship with the Unions and they know him quite well no matter how much they deny it. We have more but will wait on Danny Hakim and the Times

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  2. This is worthwhile reading.Thank you "anon" for this insightful report,muckraking at its best,a who`s who behind the scene account of the not so public relationship between political enemies.Cash as always is the commomn denominator in Albany.Thank you for this great expose. Gerry Burder 608

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