Yesterday’s Republican takeover of the New York State Senate was truly bizarre. Usually you can count on powerful social incentives to keep governing types from flouting basic standards of decorum and order. In this case, something went terribly wrong.
The lede from the New York Times, in case you missed it:
The Democrats’ tenuous control of the New York State Senate abruptly collapsed on Monday, throwing the Legislature into chaos with just two weeks remaining in its session.
Two dissident Democrats, who had been secretly strategizing with Republicans for weeks, bucked their party’s leaders and joined with 30 Republican senators to form what they said would be a bipartisan power-sharing deal. But the arrangement effectively re-establishes Republican control.
The cast of key players was also extraordinary: a turncoat who has been charged with felony assault; another under investigation by the AG; an Erie County Democratic operative turned party-less power broker; a tax-dodging fat cat with an axe to grind.
On top of all that, Tom Golisano actually watched the takeover from a backroom. Unelected and unaccountable, he and political operative Steve Pigeon apparently bankrolled and guided the coup. Pigeon is now in line for the top staff position in the Senate, according to the Buffalo News.
Upon hearing of Golisano’s role in the coup, we (Aaron & I) were reminded of a recent article in Artvoice, Buffalo’s alt-weekly, which linked the Rochester billionaire to a cult-like organization called NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”). NXIVM classifies itself as an “executive success” program, and has managed to develop a long list of wealthy and powerful clients since its founding ten years ago.
New York Magazine once painted a colorful picture of NXIVM:
It’s basically like Scientology masquerading as a self-help seminar, run by a man named Keith Raniere…NXIVM’s “executive success” program is designed to reel in alpha types who need someone to tell them that greed is good. Its big philosophy is that “human beings are born parasitic” (saying “I’m hungry” or complaining about pain, for instance, is parasitic behavior; the enlightened just take what they need). It also redefines “good” as “pro-survival” and “bad” as “destructive.” Students wear colored sashes and bow in the presence of the leader. You can see where this is headed.
This appears to be a pro-coup philosophy, for what it’s worth.
The political clout NXIVM has developed over the years makes it both sinister and potentially a relevant player in this political drama.
“Why should we pay attention to this psycho factory?” NY Magazine asked in that same article, back in 2007. “Because it has well-placed, well-heeled members and appears to be actively pursuing an entrée into political fund-raising.”
Clare and Sara Bronfman, heirs to the Seagram’s fortune, have been major backers of NXIVM. (Their father, Edgar Bronfman Sr, was once a client of NXIVM, but has since distanced himself from the group and described it as a “cult.”) Over the past several years they have retained high-priced political consultants to help them navigate the state’s political terrain and direct fundraising dollars.
State Senate Republicans were a major focus of the Bronfman’s fundraising efforts. Infamous GOP operative Roger Stone was the Bronfmans’ liaison to Joe Bruno, and directed funds to the coffers of the state GOP on their behalf. In 2007, the Albany Times Union reported that the Bronfmans had donated $35,000 worth of private jet travel and $31,600 in contributions to the state’s Republican Senate Campaign Committee.
The Bronfmans have also hired Pigeon for political consulting work, according to the Artvoice piece. It’s unclear whether he is also a member (client?).
New Senate President Espada, who is closely linked to Pigeon and is reportedly planning to hire him, has failed to file campaign finance reports since his re-election last fall, and Albany watchdogs are wondering where his money came from (other than Golisano). Pure speculation, but perhaps NXIVM’s cultish fundraising machine helped bankroll him?
We do know that Golisano wasn’t the only member/client of NXIVM in the chamber yesterday. Jack Casey, chair of the Rensselaer County GOP, is both a member of NXIVM and one of its legal advisors, and was one of the few non-Senators to play a role in the coup, according to the Albany Times-Union. NXIVM does more than just raise money for state Republicans; it helps them fulfill their parasitic promise as human beings.
It’s hard to say if all this amounts to anything more than a sinister story about a politically-connected cult with an unpronounceable acronym (?) for a name. Still, you have to wonder: how many of the people inside that chamber went through NXIVM’s program, in addition to Golisano and Casey?
Did a cult play a role in this political takeover?!
That would be truly absurd.
Update: According to the New York Times article on Golisano today, Roger Stone also played a role in the coup. Stone and Pigeon were on opposite sides of Hillary Clinton’s campaign (Pigeon was a major fundraiser, Stone founded an organization with an obscene acronym, Citizens United Not Timid, to oppose her nomination). Did NXIVM help bring them together?
Note: Some of the profiles and relationships mentioned above haven’t been filled out or added to the database yet, so take a crack at them if you’d like (sign up to edit if you haven’t already). There are also plenty more connections to dig up — who else is in the cult? who works for it? what other organizations are linked to it? Where else have they given money? Where did Vanguard work before? Dig it up, if you have a moment.