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Skelos fires back at Cuomo over ethics

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos before the start of the State of the State address at Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY -- Republicans continued Thursday to fire back at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo over ethics issues, saying that whatever strictures apply to state legislators should apply to the executive -- particularly when it comes to staff expenditures and domestic partners' financial interests.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) noted that domestic partners currently aren't required to divulge personal finances -- a jab at Cuomo, who lives with his girlfriend Sandra Lee, a Food Network personality.

Skelos said that Cuomo, when he was state attorney general, once advocated an ethics code that required not just spouses but domestic partners disclose financial interests.

"I didn't bring up his girlfriend," Skelos said of Cuomo. "What I brought up was the fact that when he was attorney general, [Cuomo] had language that said [disclosure] should apply to domestic partners. This is about equality, in terms of disclosure, between the executive branch and the legislature."

Skelos also said the legislature goes further than the governor in reporting how staff spend taxpayer money.

Flipping pages of a Senate expense report as a prop, Skelos said: "You can find out where any of our counsel, staff went. What they paid for lodging. Everything. The governor's staff, when they move their minions, of 40 or 50, for a press conference for their purposes, they don't have to disclose."

Cuomo's office didn't respond directly to Republicans' contention about Lee, calling it a "distraction."

Earlier, Cuomo counsel Alphonso David said the source of the state's ethics issue was not the governor but "legislators that are engaged in outside activity where there is a conflict with their public work."

Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both Democrats, sought to pressure Skelos on Wednesday, saying they had reached a two-way deal on an ethics package. Part of it would require lawmakers -- who are considered part-time and can hold outside jobs -- to identify their private law practice clients to avoid conflicts.

Heastie (D-Bronx) said the domestic partner issue is something that can be "put on the table" for discussion.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday said 64 percent of New Yorkers believe spouses and domestic partners of elected leaders should be subject to disclosure laws.

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