How One House Candidate Turned A Taxpayer-Funded Lobbyist Into A Personal Fundraiser

Congressional candidate Maggie Brooks (R)

Congressional candidate Maggie Brooks (R)

Maggie Brooks (R) has been County Executive for Monroe County, NY, since 2004. After nearly a decade as chief executive of the Rochester, NY-area county — population of 744,000 — Brooks is currently the Republican nominee for U.S. House of Representatives, challenging 13-term incumbent Rep. Louise Slaughter (D). And, according to her most recent disclosure forms, she is receiving significant help from a long-time lobbyist supporter who has done very well under the tenure — a potentially serious conflict of interest.

Bruce Fennie, a Rochester-based federal lobbyist has raised at least $19,200 in “bundled” contributions for Brooks’ Congressional campaign and contributed the legal maximum of $2,500. Fennie is the only lobbyist bundler identified to date as having raised a significant amount for Brooks. And this support is nothing new — New York State campaign finance disclosure records show Fennie gave tens of thousands to her county races over the years.

Why is Fennie so enthusiastic about Brooks? One reason may be that, during her tenure as County Executive, almost all of his lobbying contracts over Brooks’ tenure have been with her county’s government. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported in 2010:

Fennie, a former executive in Rochester for the communications division of Florida-based Harris Corp., and his three employees earned $660,000 last year representing five public-sector clients in Monroe County.

They were paid $260,000 by the Monroe County Water Authority, $160,000 by Monroe Community College and $80,000 each by Monroe County, the Monroe County Airport Authority and the Monroe County Department of Transportation, according to public disclosure reports he filed with the House of Representatives.

The Monroe Community College was the only such institution in the state of New York to be paying a federal lobbyist. And, the Democrat and Chronicle notes, Brooks even accompanied Fennie on a Washington lobbying trip in March.

While a Brooks spokesman told the paper that all of Fennie’s contracts were with “independent authorities that do not report to the county or the county executive,” and claimed none were with the county itself, the paper noted that that statement was apparently false. A ThinkProgress review of lobbying disclosure forms confirms that Fennie has directly represented the county since 2008 and receives $80,000 a year for his services.

While her campaign website boasts that Brooks is “well-known for her fiscally responsible leadership and commitment to best serving the interests of local taxpayers,” not everyone believes the county’s spending on Fennie’s lobbying firm was a good use of funds. In a 2010 column, Republican Rochester talk show host Bob Lonsberry observed that the apparently symbiotic relationship between Brooks and Fennie “smells” and “makes you wonder what the behind-the-scenes connection is.”

Neither Fennie nor the Brooks campaign responded immediately to a request for comment.