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Paterson proposes limits on campaign donations

New York Gov. David Paterson delivers his State

New York Gov. David Paterson delivers his State of the State speech Wednesday in Albany. Credit: AP File, 2009

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson will unveil legislation Wednesday aimed at reducing the influence of moneyed special interests over state government, his aides said.

The expansive proposals, included in his State of State speech, face an uphill fight in the legislature, which rejected some of them last year. Lawmakers aren't in a cooperative mood after Paterson criticized them for failing to completely close this year's $3.2-billion budget deficit.

While acknowledging the challenge, aides said public disgust at Capitol goings-on demands change. They said Paterson would call for significantly lower limits on campaign donations, along with a ban on corporate money, public financing of campaigns and greater disclosure of lawmakers' outside business activity.

He also will urge adoption of a constitutional amendment to set term limits of eight years for governor and other statewide offices and 12 years for legislators.

"The Reform Albany Act is meant to eliminate the big-money special interests that . . . have influenced and almost corrupted our state government," said Lawrence Schwartz, Paterson's top aide. The bills attempt to "make sure the people of the State of New York are being represented before lobbyists."

Paterson is the latest chief executive to propose a sweeping ethics overhaul in the wake of scandal. Paterson's initiative addresses issues raised by the corruption conviction of former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick).

It also tackles problems revealed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of kickbacks paid by companies seeking to do business with the state pension fund under then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

Good-government groups applauded some of Paterson's ideas, particularly the creation of a government ethics commission to enforce rules for both the legislature and governor's office.

They also liked the $250 limit on campaign contributions from lobbyists and $1,000 for other individuals, down from the current maximum of $55,900.

"We've been talking about some of these things for decades," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "But much of what's in the governor's bill has been shot down by the legislature."

The State Senate and Assembly have been negotiating an ethics bill since the Senate failed to pass an Assembly bill last year.

The Assembly also has adopted bills for public financing of campaigns 10 times in the past 20 years - but all died in the Senate. Paterson's matching program would begin in 2012 and initially cost $30 million.

Lawmakers were lukewarm to Paterson's initiative.

Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the minority leader, said ethics reform was important but eclipsed in residents' minds by the recession. He said, "they can't afford these taxes and fees and they're concerned about jobs - is there going to be a future for them in New York State?"

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