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Governor Paterson Announces Sweeping Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

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New York Governor David A. Paterson has announced extensive ethics and campaign finance reform legislation, the “Reform Albany Act”, which will be a focus of his second State of the State address.

The proposed legislation calls for the creation of a single, independent State Government Ethics Commission with advisory and enforcement powers regarding campaign finance, ethics and lobbying; and which would replace the New York State Commission on Public Integrity. It also provides for increased oversight and enhanced reporting by state officers of outside business activities, and enhanced reporting requirements for lobbyists. And, it would replace the State Comptroller as sole trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund (one of the largest pension funds in the U.S.) with a 5-member Board of Trustees.

The legislation also includes sweeping campaign finance reform: drastically reducing maximum contribution limits, limiting contributions to housekeeping accounts, and banning corporate contributions; as well as providing for a new system for the public financing of campaigns. The Governor has also proposed term limits for members of the Legislature and statewide officials (which would require a State Constitutional amendment).

The sweeping ethics reform initiative follows the recent trial and conviction former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno on corruption charges, which exposed weaknesses in State ethics laws; as well as Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s investigation of Pay to Play activity involving the administration of the Common Retirement Fund under the former State Comptroller.

While several of the concepts in the legislation have been the subject of prior proposals, the reform package faces an uphill battle in the State Legislature. The State Senate and State Assembly are developing their own ethics initiatives. And, the estimated 30 million dollar price tag for public financing of campaigns comes at a time of financial crisis in the State, with the budget deficit in 2010 estimated at between 7 and 9 billion dollars.