Daniel L. Feldman

My “bundlers”

In National Politics on May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I had a few “bundlers,” or people who raised money from their friends for me. Greg Milmoe, a partner at the Skadden Arps law firm, raised about thirty thousand dollars from some wealthy clients and friends. Lenny Cecere, a real estate man, Adam Rowen, a physician and pneumo-thoracic specialist, and the late Wilbur “Bill” Levin, former president of Independence Bank and then Kings County Clerk, each raised about five thousand dollars from business associates and friends with whom they were close. None of them had any vested interest in my election. They raised money because they were my friends, believed in me personally, and thought my election would serve the public interest.

Jerry Nadler and Eliot Engel, two members of Congress, each raised a few thousand dollars for me – Jerry from business people involved in the effort to revitalize shipping in New York, an effort which I had tried to assist; and Eliot from Kosovo Albanians, since Engel’s efforts on their behalf, strenuous at that time, eventually made him the member of Congress most responsible for the American intervention that helped protect them from further genocidal efforts in the former Yugoslavia. Like the four mentioned previously, their personal relationships with me motivated their efforts, although I’m also sure they knew that I would happily have joined in pursuit of the policies they wanted to advance.

One last bundler may have had less pure ambitions. Rabbi Milton Balkany had asked me, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, to intervene with the Department of Correction on behalf inmates he claimed had been unfairly penalized in one way or another. Before I did so, I carefully researched each case. His claims, the first few times, proved accurate. His claims on behalf of another inmate did not. I confronted him with his errors, and he immediately apologized and withdrew his request. After a year or so had passed since my last intervention at his request, he sent me a sizeable contribution to my Assembly campaign account; it might have been as much as a thousand dollars.

He had me as his lunch guest at the Bais Yaakov girls yeshiva he ran in Borough Park, and once for dinner at his elegant home a few blocks away. A Hassidic rabbi with a flowing white beard, Balkany exuded warmth and graciousness, along with extremely sophisticated and articulate presentations.  His political sympathies and campaign contributions generally flowed toward Republicans, including raising over $300,000 for Senator Robert Dole in the 1980s, a $25,000 check for George Pataki’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994, and a $19,000 check for Rudy Giuliani’s reelection campaign in 1997. He gave the invocations opening both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives in 2003.

What I did not know was the Balkany got paid for his interventions on behalf of these inmates. Such donations to his non-profit school would find their way back to him, by way of salary or other means. In 2004, as part of an agreement to defer prosecution on an unrelated matter, federal prosecutors required Balkany to stop lobbying federal prison officials. In 2011, federal judge Denise Cole sentenced Balkany to four years in prison for still another unrelated matter, this time a shakedown scheme.

Balkany raised about $30,000 for me. I did not doubt his integrity until well after the congressional race, and indeed stayed in touch with him until about 2002, when I began to learn about his record of less-than-pure activities.

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