Charity begins, or doesn't, with Joe Bruno

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Mike Bloomberg's favorite State Senate Majority Leader, Joe Bruno, goes on trial Monday on charges that his use of his office to enrich himself amounts to theft of honest services (the same thing they, briefly, got Ted Stevens on).

The bulk of the funds he's using to pay his lawyers comes from unused campaign donations, but a chunk of it comes from donations to a charity which may not exist.

$633,000 of the checks Bruno has written to his lawyers so far were drawn from funds which generous supporters donated to the Committee to Re-Elect Senator Bruno. Bruno, whose seat was completely safe, was thought to use the Committee as a way to pass along donations from people seeking his goodwill to cooperative State Senators. When Bruno was still in office, he also paid his lawyers with funds from the NYS Senate Republican Campaign Committee (to which our own Mayor Bloomberg was a particularly enthusiastic financial contributor). As of July, the Committee to Re-Elect, which Bruno still has access to, had $712,751 in available funds.

The potential problem doesn't arise from Bruno's use of election funds, which, though whiffy, is not unprecedented and completely legal. The problem stems from the Joe Bruno Legal Defense Fund, which claims to have collected $44k in donations, and which claims on its web page to be a charity (well, OK. It claims to be "a charity register in accordance with laws of New York").

Unfortunately, the Attorney General's Charities Bureau, which nonprofit charities are required to register with, and the Attorney General's office in general, have no record that the Joe Bruno Legal Defense Fund was ever incorporated as a charity. A Bruno spokesman says that the defense fund filed their incorporation papers with the Secretary of State on 9/29.

If true, there's still a problem - the $44k in donations were collected as of 9/18, seemingly by an organization which one way or another was not legally qualified to receive them.

Bruno's trial starts Monday.

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