Political connections take to the air

ALBANY — Some Senate Republicans have been getting rides on an aircraft tied to the controversial executive training organization in Halfmoon whose inner circle appears to be getting increasingly involved in politics.

The Republican Senate Campaign Committee lists $34,763 in five “in-kind” donations — air transportation — and four monetary donations totaling $31,600 over the last year-and-a-half from two women, who list the address of 1471 Route 9, Suite 202, Halfmoon.

The women, Sara and Clare Bronfman, are sisters with deep ties to Nxivm Corp., according to former associates. Nxivm has run Executive Success Programs, an executive training business, in the Capital Region for several years. The business has been trying to expand in Halfmoon and has been working with the town on gaining approvals.

Nxivm, founded by Keith Raniere, known as “Vanguard” to followers, claims its courses and personal coaches help professionals reach their full potential. Former participants, company officials and others have called it cultlike, and the classes an expensive form of brainwashing.

Some of its top people have also recently contributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign. Eight donations from eight different individuals associated with Nxivm, each at the maximum allowed of $2,300 apiece, were made to the Clinton campaign on March 14, the date of a major Manhattan fundraiser.

The Bronfmans, heirs to the Seagram’s fortune of Edgar Bronfman, could not be reached for comment. Nxivm officials declined to comment. A Forbes article about Nxivm noted that the Bronfman jet is made available to Nxivm officials.

Rensselaer County Republican Party Chairman Jack Casey, a lawyer for the state Senate, a legal adviser to Nxivm and a student of its executive programs, would not take questions on Nxivm. He referred questions to Edward Lurie, executive director of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and John McArdle, director of communications for the Senate Republicans, who did not return phone calls.

The plane rides provided to Senate Republicans occurred on Feb. 2, Sept. 18, Oct. 19 and Oct. 24 of 2006 and on March 1 of this year, according to state records.

A limited liability company called Viente-Siete/Charlie’s Wings LLC at 1471 Route 9 Suite 202 in Halfmoon, the same address the Bronfmans used as their address as donors to the Senate campaign fund, made the in-kind donations.

An organization with a slightly different spelling, Veinte-Siete LLC, is listed as the owner of a Canadair 1995 jet, with a Manhattan address that is the same as that of the Bronfman family’s accountant, Holtz Rubenstein Reminick. The firm did not return calls this week.

The 1,200-square-foot office, located down the corridor from Executive Success Programs in the Rome Plaza, was vacant on Thursday. It has been rented to Barbara J. Bouchey Asset Management, a financial planning firm that advertises to “affluent individuals, families and businesses.”

Bouchey, who has been associated with Nxivm for years, declined to discuss the donations made from the office she rented. She said other registered financial advisers have been allowed to use her office to do business. She added that she is not political and was unfamiliar with the LLC.

Bouchey is one of the Nxivm associates who made a $2,300 donation to Clinton this year. She and Sara Bronfman also gave $250 each to the Saratoga County Democratic Party in 2005.

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Rick Ross, operator of The Ross Institute, which tracks controversial groups, said Nxivm likely is trying to curry favor with politicians. He said he believes Nxivm has “many characteristics commonly associated with groups called cults.”

Ross, presently in litigation with Nxivm, added, “I have heard that Sara and Clare Bronfman for some time have been making donations to political campaigns in the hope of ultimately … garnering influence for their mentor, Keith Raniere and his organization, Nxivm.”

He said providing the Bronfman jet to Nxivm is not uncommon, but using it for politicians is a new development.

Blake Zeff, a spokesman for Clinton, said the Nxivm people apparently attended the fundraiser. He also said the Clinton campaign has not accepted jet rides from the LLC.

Senate officials say the most likely user of the LLC’s in-kind contribution of air transportation is Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick.

Bruno’s use of state aircraft for meetings in Manhattan on days of Republican political fundraisers and of private jets arranged by a suspected lobbyist have come under scrutiny by state investigators this year. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Bruno did not violate the state’s policy on state aircraft use. Investigators have not accused him of any wrongdoing in accepting the private rides, but the person who arranged them, businessman and Bruno friend Jared Abbruzzese, could face stiff fines if he violated a ban on expensive gifts.

“It gives you an idea of loopholes that exist in our campaign finance system,” said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters. “The $34,000 sounds like a lot of money but it’s not illegal under our lax contribution limits.”

James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at jodato@timesunion.com.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 15, 2007.
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