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by Jay Gallagher

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Pay to play' squared

“Pay to play’’ is an old Albany tradition, long fought by the League and other reform groups. But an allegation that surfaced today seems to take it to a whole new level.

The New York Post reported today that Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, sent out a letter earlier this month to labor leaders, suggesting they contribute $50,000 to Senate Democrats to get “direct dialogue’’ with lawmakers.

These are the same Democrats who will control how much state money big union constituencies, like teachers and health-care workers, get in this year’s budget.

The invitation to join suggested that labor leaders could be members of the “2010 Labor Advisory Council’’ for $25,000, or council “chairs’’ for $50,000.

Klein’s letter promised that “the advisory council chairs will be invited to meetings with the Senate Democratic majority leadership.’’

Lobbyists get invitations to fund-raisers for lawmakers and other state officials incessantly, with sometimes as many as seven or eight events being held on a night when the Legislature is in town.

The problem, as League legislative director Barbara Bartoletti pointed out, is that “those that have the money get the access,’’ while those without fat wallets are left on the outside.

“The only solution,’’ she said, “is to have comprehensive campaign-finance reform,’’ including lower limits on contributions, more disclosure of donations and better enforcement of existing regulations.

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