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State of the State includes ethics reform proposal

January 11, 2010
Gov. David A. Paterson's second State of the State address included the Executive Chamber's proposed legislation for additional state ethics reform.

Named the Reform Albany Act, the plan would create an independent State Government Ethics Commission that would have ten members chosen by legislative leaders.

These 10 designated panel members would then choose the five State Government Ethics Commission members who would replace the 13 members of the Public Integrity Commission.

The commission would be able to make ethics referrals to the attorney general and perform audits within the Legislature.

"This will establish a uniform enforcement so that one ethical standard, one set of practices and one interpretation of the application of the ethics law would apply to everyone is state government," said Paterson's Communications Director Peter Kauffmann.

The legislation would also mandate state legislators and officers to disclose all outside business activities including consulting, lobbying, contracting and outside practice income. State officials and legislators convicted of a crime while in office would also lose their pension.

"If they are committing crimes in their public office, we argue that those pensions that were earned were illegally earned and that they are not protected under the constitution," said Jeff Pearlman, assistant counsel to the governor.

In hopes to ban bundling, soliciting and collecting campaign donations and contributing them as a whole organization, Paterson's plan would put a $250 cap on lobbyist contributions to candidates and a maximum $1000 contribution to state office candidates. It would limit the amount that can be placed in a party's "housekeeping account." Corporate contributions would be banned altogether.

These proposed campaign finance laws, many of which have already been sponsored in similar form by Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, would limit the use of campaign funds and require the return of unused funds upon leaving office.

"Obviously there is a great need for improvement in the ethical climate in Albany, and I am pleased that the Governor shares my positions on so many of these issues," said Senator Krueger.

Additionally, a proposed constitutional amendment would limit the terms of statewide officials. State Assembly members and senators would be limited to six two-year terms and state officials, including the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller would be limited to two four-year terms.

If the legislation passes and Paterson is re-elected, the proposed reform would limit the governor's own number of terms and place restrictions on any future campaign contributions for Paterson himself.

When asked if Paterson would comply with his own proposed elections rules, his counsel Peter Kiernan said, "The governor is going to play by the rules as they are now. He will honor every campaign finance law and regulation." Kiernan said the governor wants to make sure the people of New York are being represented by more than lobbyists and other big special interest groups. Kaufmann agreed, saying ethical reform can lead to fiscal reform.

"I think the governor's Reform Albany Act shines a bright light on the shadow government that exists here. A shadow government made up of lobbyists and big money special interests that this legislation, if enacted, would put the interests of the people of New York ahead of those interests," concluded Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz.

The governor hopes the law would be enacted by the 2012 election season.

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