Spin Cycle

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ALBANY - Former State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who in 2008 resigned his powerful post amid a federal corruption investigation but won his case at trial last year, is donating $1.4 million left over in his campaign fund to the Senate Republicans' campaign.

About $70,000 left in Bruno's legal defense fund that once totaled more than $500,000 will go to nonprofit groups and institutions he supported as senator, Bruno said Friday.

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Current Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) accepted the contribution.

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Bruno's hand-picked successor, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), lost the majority leader post to Flanagan after Skelos was indicted earlier this year on corruption charges.

Senate Democrats next year will again try to erase the Republicans' razor-thin majority in the legislative election. Democrats have proposed a measure that would return such leftover campaign money to the state.

"This million-dollar payoff is a glaring example of the desperate need to reform New York state election law," said Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy. "We need to close this loophole and the Senate Republicans should return this money to the taxpayers immediately."

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Bruno said his transfer from the campaign account to the Senate Republicans' campaign account is legal and appropriate, because the donations were intended to keep the GOP in charge of the chamber.

"There comes a time when you have to move on," Bruno said in a written statement. "I've decided to do just that with regard to my campaign accounts ... and therefore will close them out and disburse the funds."

Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union good-government group called that appropriate under current law, even preferable the way other former politicians have used their campaign funds for years to advance their business interests or lifestyle.

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"What he did was give it to the most similar entity for which the funds were raised," Dadey said. "Under the current law, I think he's chosen an appropriate route."

Common Cause NewYork and other good-government groups have long sought to have such windfalls returned to donors or given to charity.

"What is most egregious," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, "is that $1.4 million is being transferred to the Senate Republicans' campaign account that is actually coming from taxpayer dollars and that is outrageous."

The state under law had to reimburse Bruno for $2.4 million for his defense in two trials because the charges, which didn't end in conviction, involved his job as a senator.

"That is such an abuse of our system and an abuse of taxpayer dollars to fund political activity," she said. "It is very shocking and perfectly legal."

She also noted that Senate Republicans have long blocked proposals to use public money to fund campaigns as a way to reduce the influence of big donors and big donations.