Bruce Caputo, New York's freshman Republican on the House ethics Committee, says his work on the Korean influence-buying investigation "doesn't take much time." He grins, "Just a little courage."
Bruce Caputo, regarded by many of his colleagues as the scourge of the House Ethics Committee, has been accused of providing Koreagate leaks, of using the media to promote himself and of tainting all of Congress by innuendo in the Tongsun Park investigation. Caputo says that one colleague spit on him.
The image seems hardly to bother him. He avoids the members' dining room because "that would be asking for trouble." On the floor, while other members joke and slap backs, Caputo often sits alone, ignored.
In apprearance, the 34-year-old Caputo stands apart from his colleaghes. It is easy to imagine him at Manhattan's spots - in his double-vent, tailor-made suits with buttonholes on the cuffs; jackets so nipped at the waist that it's impossible to slouch, and his Italian-movie-star dark looks, the slight resemblance to Rex Reed.
It was last September when Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill, a hulking 6 feet 4, at a closed session of the Ethics Committee looked like a huge, and very angry, Smokey the Bear. He spoke of Caputo's interrogation of Suzi Park Thomson, former aide to Carl Albert. It was leaked that Thompson said park "frequently operated" out of O'Neill's office. Thompson later denied the phrase and said she had seen Park there "two or three times." O'Neill in a rare move shot back at freshman Caputo: I know the gentleman asked about Carl Albert and he asked about Tip O'Neill. I could ask: Why did the gentleman not go into other? Why was he partisan about it? I just want the gentleman to know that I was the victim of a terrific smear. All I have is my reputation . . . and I do not want anyone tearing my reputation apart."
Today, Caputo shrugs. "Well he has confessed to having parties and getting golf bags - all of which are clear violations of the Constitution and the rules."
O'Neill, who criticizes Caputo in private, says that other House members invited him to two parties honoring him in 1973 and 1974 that were hosted by Park. He says the golf bags were presented to him by a colleague and he had no knowledge they came from Park.
Caputo whips out a copy of the House rules and reads repidly, like a lawyer in court: "A member of the House of Representatives shall accept no gift of substantial value, directly or indirectly from any person, organization or corporation having a direct interest in legislation before the Congress."
Caputo says, "The Korean government has a multi-billion-dollar annual interest in legislation before Congress. Mr. Park got $9 million in commission as a broker for the sale of rice under the food-for peace program." He snaps, "Reach your own conclusion."
Then Caputo concludes about himself: "If people up here are unhappy with my estimates of dozens of members past and present who have taken from Korean agents, wait until you get my estimates on those who have taken travel at the expenses of a business corporation with direct interest in legislation for a foreign government or a foundation representing a foreign government. You're really capturing a big hunk of the House there."
Bruce Caputo has an MBO - management by objective - approach to life.In his Capitol Hill office - so barren of pictures, books and bric-brac that it looks as if he's just moved out - Caputo flips open a 150-page book. "We have a two-year objective, reduced to montly objectives for each of our four district offices. Monthly reports indicate how much progress we're making toward our defined objective."
He sounds as if he could be Bruce Computer. He leafs through graphs, charts, figures for reaching constituents - detailed accounts of speeches, phone calls, handling of requests - and promoting himself. He explains, "You reward and punish" depending on output. "It's Harvard Business School stuff. This place (Capitol Hill) just cries for mangement."
He refer to attending Washington political parties in terms of "cost effectiveness." A former aide says, "Bruce forgets little things - like holidays."
Harvard Business School (class of '67) refined Caputo's goal-oriented drive. "Sure I got at things hard - but that's the way I played Lacrosse. My father's the same away.
Caputo's congressional turf stretches from the Bronx, with its unemployed garment workers, to Westchester, with its millionaires. He's known both kinds, graduating from PS8 in Yonkers and Harvard. The day he went to Harvard, one pal went to jail Caputo's father is a wealth and influential civil attorney who gives him advice and helped bankroll his campaign. His brother is a stockbroker. His mother was an Irish orphan, his granparents Italian immigrants. He learned Italian at home and now, campaigning, he sits on stoops and speaks Italian to Democratic laborers, who help elect Republican Caputo.
In 1967, Caputo was drafted and worked in the office of the secretary of defense, attending Georgetown night law school. At 27, Caputo and some friends were running a management consulting company. "My net worth was rising rapidly." He decided to try politics. Yonkers didn't have the "kind of leadership it needed and deserved.
Besides, he says, "I didn't have a wife and kids," For Caputo a family is "a mojor demand on your time." After four years in the state assembly, Caputo came to Congress last January.
Caputo is a bachelor who champions New York. "The strengths of this town are not important to me - tennis courts near where you live, parking in front of your house, no traffic, politics." He gives a little laugh. "Who needs politics? New York has the model girls and the TV people and the advertising people and the finance people and you name it."
Are politicians different from others? "It's easy to exaggerate the differences but there are some - ego and insecurity - both about women and self worth, and the future. What am I insecure about?The answer would be 'nothing'. Certainly not (about) women." He chuckles. "I don't fit the mold."
If Caputo has his opinion of Washington, so do Washingtonians have their opion of Caputo.
"He has enormous contempt for all politicians," says one Ethics Committee colleague. "Many colleagues compare him to Nixon on the Hiss case - similar personal aggressiveness, ambition, making hay. His objective is sound, but we resent the fact he's trying to make the rest of us look like we're dragging our feet. Actually, he's slowed things up with his grandstand plays we want to make sure the innocent are not tainted, but Bruce wants to believe the worst."
In taking about campaign financing, Caputo say, "I don't take contributions from a union. I never have. i don't want to be beholden." There is a slight pause, before he add, "I'm afraid I'm one of the few." His $180,000 in contributions came from "personal friends." He didn't mention that he received considerable donations from Wall Street investors.
Abner Mikva, Illnois Democrat and one of the most respected members, says, "if he wants to blow the whistle on the bad gys fine, but I'm dismayed at the way he's dumped on the institution. To him there's no difference between a Paul Simon and a Cornelius Gallagher." (Former Rep. Gallagher served 17 months in prison for income tax evasion.)
Caputo's former press secretary, Dick Leggitt, says, "I like Bruce, but many of the Republicans think he's a royal pain in the a --. You won't get than on the record."
Caputo also says he has a Hill following. The newer members are "solidly behind me. In the members' gym. I get all the support I need, but on the House floor it weakens a little." (They are intimidated, he says, by the leadership - fearful of not getting good assigments or party backing in their campaign.) One such freshman sighted, "He can be cocky but he is right on Korea, dammit."
The rest of the Ethics Committee decided to stay home when Justice Department officials went to Korea in December to interview Park. Suddenly, Caputo announced that he was going.Just as suddendly, he was on coast-to-coast television, on his return, hinting that Park has "dozens" of congressemen, past and present, to implicate.
"Bruce is a press agent's dream." says Leggitt. "Works the media better than anyone I've ever seen. He is the most intensely ambitioun man I have ever seen in politics. I tried very had to sort out how much of him was real, Caputo moves out tho those parties that are all business - a National Gallery of Art reception given by CBS honoring the vice president's wife, Joan Mondale; a jammed reception of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union at the Hyatt-Regency; a gathering of the National Savings and Loan League at the Longworth building.
In the medical of someone's speech at the National Gallery, Caputo strides up to a man who looks as though he may be in charge, introduce himself and asks him to find TV types from New York."A lot of CBS management lives in my district." "Oh, there's Bob Solfi - he's known your father for years and is a heavy contributor," says one man in the crowd. Caputo bounds over to Solfi - the producer of a TV show about the National Gallery. "Bruce, how are you," says Solfi.
In seconds, Caputo is at Mrs. Mondale's side, regaling her with a story about having dinner at the vice president's house for the Italo-American congressional delegation. The film goes on, Caputo's eyes dart about the darkened room. He decides he can't use it.
At the Hyatt Regency, the New York accents abound. The woman at the ballroom door explains that the microphone to announce the politicians is late arriving. Caputo tours the rom, drinking nothing, adroitly sidestepping lobbyist's requests, in pursuit of people from his district.
On his way out, the woman says the mike has arrived. Capto twirls around, goes back in and is announced. Pay dirt. people engulf him, tell him to keep up the good work on those crooks in Congress. He smiles. Now he is a little boy, joshing with gray-haired Mae Squillante and Ann Maruzita, telling them he taught them how to speak Italian. The talk is of rough times; garment workers out of work becuase of a proliferation of imported goods. "You gotta help reduce those imports," says Squillante. "Before, we didn't need no charity. I don't want no unemployment. I want to work."
Squillante says Caputo gets her vote, "We don't care if he's Republican.He's for the working people." Caputo puts his arm around her and smiles at Maruzita. "I gotta go girls." They love it.
On the way out again, Caputo bumps in to Rep. Peter Rodino of New Jersey. Rodino gives him vague and unenthusiastic, "Oh, ah, hi, Bruce."
It is a few days later and Caputo is telling a reporter on the phone that the date has been nailed down. Tongsun Park is returning on the 21st to be questioned in closed and open sessions. Caputo can barely contain himself. Lights, action, camera.
Caputo closes out the conversation with: "Go get em."