Still an unknown candidate to most New Yorkers, Kirsten Gillibrand would like you to believe she is a political outsider. But she comes from a well-known New York political family and has been groomed for public office for years, during which time she has mastered the art of chameleon-like deception regarding her past. It’s no surprise that her personal connections to the Alfonse D’Amato constellation of political corruption in New York run so deep.
For starters, Gillibrand’s father, Doug Rutnick, is a well-known Albany insider and lobbyist whose ties to GOP powerhouses such as D’Amato, Joe Bruno, and George Pataki are well established. Rutnick grew close to D’Amato in the 1980s and was in a 13-year personal relationship with Zenia Mucha, senior D’Amato aide as well as former policy advisor for Governor George Pataki. This connection would later come in handy for Gillibrand in her first surprising political victory when she came out of nowhere to defeat four-term Republican incumbent John Sweeney.
During her early tenure at UCLA law school, Gillibrand was an intern for two years at then Senator D’Amato’s office in Albany. Later, she scored a highly coveted clerkship with Reagan-appointed federal appellate court judge Roger J. Miner, even though she was not in the top 10 percent of her law class (UCLA ’91). It was widely assumed that she got the position based on her D’Amato connections.
With family connections and rampant cronyism, the public often holds you guilty by association. Unfortunately for her, Gillibrand’s connections have had a messy history of corruption and even criminal charges.
Her father’s former partner at First Grafton Corporation was disgraced former State Senator Joe Bruno. After a long tenure as a senator, Bruno was charged with two felony counts that, as described by the Albany Times Union, involved “enriching himself through consulting deals with people who had an interest in his legislative decision-making.” The government said he failed to disclose material conflicts of interest as required and forced him to pay the state $280,000 in restitution.
After her clerkship, Gillibrand returned to the law firm of David Polk & Wardwell, where she represented big money clients including tobacco conglomerate Philip Morris and was a key player in defending the company against government claims that it hid safety information from consumers.
Gillibrand had begun building her political contacts since day one. Her father had also been close to former Governor Mario Cuomo, so in 1999, when Gillibrand ran into HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo at a fundraiser, she told him she was interested in public service work. She was hired the next day as special counsel and put in charge of HUD’s New Markets Initiative. But what she was really doing was contributing to the subprime mortgage mess.
As Dick Morris pointed out in a recent New York Post op-ed piece, her job there was “to promote “new products” for the agency — subprime mortgages for people who couldn’t afford them. But once the mortgage meltdown began, she hit the “delete” key again — expunging the item from her resume.” Using her inside knowledge, she even profited from the crisis, as she and her husband shorted firms like Countrywide that specialized in subprime mortgages.
During this period, government sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were busy giving “soft money” to both Democratic and Republican committees. According to a report by the CATO Institute in 1997, Freddie Mac contributed $557,500 to such committees, including $140,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee chaired by Banking Committee chairman Alfonse D’Amato and $210,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Fannie Mae contributed $198,150 in total to such committees, with $75,000 going to D’Amato’s Senatorial Committee.”
As a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2008 pointed out, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “were central players, if not the central players, in the creation of the housing boom and the credit bust.” They had become “squeezed between the need to meet affordable-housing goals set by HUD and the desire to sustain their growth and profits … [they became] responsible for some $1.6 trillion worth of subprime credit of one form or another.”
Gillibrand’s public service work at HUD didn’t last long, thanks to the coming disaster for the American people, and she rejoined the corporate law world as a $500,000 a year partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Well-known litigator David Boies and his son Chris Boies would later become huge backers of Gillibrand’s political career.
Gillibrand was now hungry to go into politics, especially after becoming chummy with Hilary Clinton and working with the fund-raising group, Women For Hillary, in the late ‘90s. Under Clinton tutelage, Gillibrand transferred her job to Albany and took residence in nearby Hudson, a Republican stronghold that some believed was susceptible to a moderate newcomer. But this also leads us back to her father’s old girlfriend, Zenia. Gillibrand won her seat [after being down 19 points] when a state police domestic violence report about the GOP incumbent, John Sweeney, was mysteriously leaked, ostensibly with the acquiescence of the Pataki administration,” according to the Village Voice (1/22/09). Once again, Big Daddy Al’s little girl once used her connections, not her skills, to seize power.
Sounding more and more in public like a Valley Girl mall rat, Gillibrand began showing her habit of picking and choosing which parts of her past should be public knowledge. Riding the coattails of supporter Hilary Clinton, who provided her with invaluable donor lists, as well as her connections through the D’Amato machine, Gillibrand had become quite the fundrasier and could now draw staunch support from the Democratic establishment.
Her old bosses David and Chris Boies gave $75,000 to Governor David Paterson, the blind man who would eventually appoint Gillibrand as Senator, with $50,000 coming exactly one month before the appointment.
The night of her acceptance speech, when she celebrated her new job as appointed U.S. Senator was telling: Her old pal, D’Amato came and stood by her side onstage to bask in the glory of his former intern. An investigative review of campaign finance committees by the Village Voice found that D’Amato was actually Paterson’s “largest single fundraiser,” though the most powerful politician in New York denied having any influence over Gillibrand’s startlingly fast rise to the U.S. Senate.
When she finally ascended and was handed the role of Senator by Paterson, she displayed her true colors again. As New York Magazine noted in a 2009 profile, “her first 100 days were marred by policy flip-flips, threats from political rivals, and images of her as a fighter for Big Tobacco who happened to keep two guns under her bed.” For example, one of her flip-flops came in 2007, when she co-sponsored legislation requiring the government to delete information from handgun background checks after 24 hours. Right after she became Senator, she voted to repeal that very same legislation.
The New York Times ran a piece pointing out her hypocrisy as a self-described “public interest lawyer” for clients like Philip Morris, when her primary job was to hide documents from the public that could have saved lives. She took to the role with full knowledge of her actions and never once opted to leave the client, even though she could have, the article reported.
But flip-flopping on issues like gun control or Big Tobacco were only drops in the bucket. As a U.S. Senator, Gillibrand really had the power to really help old friends and allies such as D’Amato, a world-class lobbyist at Park Strategies, a multi-million dollar Washington and Albany lobbying business.
You can see how this all works: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
It’s basically an old-boy network, now with a few gals included, more interested in generating wealth for the wealthy than representing the needs of the people of New York state. With Americans facing such an uncertain economic future, it’s a machine that needs to be broken down and replaced with sound leadership.
– by America Outraged PAC