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Schneiderman proposes new ethics measures

NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, seen here

NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, seen here on May 27, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

ALBANY -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Monday proposed banning outside employment by state legislators, ending their per diem expense checks and lowering the limits on campaign contribution by special interests trying to influence Albany in what he called "a golden age of graft."

"Allowing legislators to have outside jobs invites corruption," Schneiderman said, according to prepared remarks to the Citizens Union good-government group.

Schneiderman's ethics proposal also would change the term served by legislators from two years to four years with the goal of reducing constant fundraising for campaigns.

He also proposes a "significant" pay increase to attract better candidates and reduce the influence of big donors on politics -- from the current base pay of $79,500 for the part-time job to somewhere between a New York City Council member's wage of $112,500 and the pay for a member of Congress, $174,000. He also would change the $172-per-day allotment to reimbursing for actual expenses.

While Schneiderman was making his speech last night in Manhattan at New York Law School, at least 10 fundraisers were scheduled in Albany to begin when the State Senate and Assembly adjourned for the day. Tickets ranged from $250 to $1,000.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying to force greater disclosure of outside income on lawmakers as well as limits on per diem expenses. Cuomo put his latest ethics package into his budget amendments, but the Senate and Assembly so far have refused to introduce them. Lawmakers said, however, that they will negotiate reforms.

"Outside employment income must be banned . . . it is impossible to avoid conflicts -- or the appearance of conflicts -- if legislators have outside employment," Schneiderman said. "The time has come to end it."

Schneiderman urged Cuomo to force the legislature to accept the changes under his extraordinary budget powers, even if that means the budget is late. The state budget is due by April 1, after which the governor can impose many of his policies in emergency spending measures, while providing the legislature with the option of either approving them or shutting down government.

"Prosecutors can only respond to the symptoms of a system that is very, very ill," Schneiderman said. He said most reforms so far only tinkered at the margins, followed by news conferences declaring "groundbreaking" change, and "ultimately followed by another scandal."

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