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by Jay Gallagher

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reform groups hope to flex their muscles

The League is joining with other reform groups to stage what they hope will be a dramatic showing of how much citizens want change at the state Capitol.
"New Yorkers are fed up,'' a statement from the groups said today. "Scandals have driven from office Gov. Spitzer, Comptroller Hevesi, Senate Majority Leader Bruno and a growing number of state legislators. Some elected officials - including Gov. Paterson - are currently under investigation. Many of these abuses of power were rooted in the absence of effective and independent ethics and fiscal watchdogs, tough ethics laws and adequate transparency in government.''
The groups plan to descend on the Capitol on May 5 to put pressure on elected officials and candidates in this year's elections "to pledge to enact meaningful reforms.''
The agenda:
- Ensure that ethic, lobbying and campaign-finance watchdogs are independent and powerful.
- End the practice of legislators drawing their own district lines.
- Provide fairness in allocating legislative resources, including distributions of "member items."
- Reform the legislature's rules to increase transparency, accountability, and public input.
- Ban the personal use of campaign contributions.
- Eliminate obsolete public authorities.
- Establish an independent fiscal watchdog.
- Open up the government's budget books and put them on-line.
- End "pay to play" for lobbyists and seekers - and receivers - of government contracts.
- Require the public disclosure of "independent" campaign contributions and close loopholes.
- Bolster the role of small donors in the campaign-finance system.
- Restrict transfers from parties and legislative political committees to individual candidates
- Dramatically reduce the allowable size of campaign contributions.
"We want elected officials and those who are seeking office to put themselves on the line in terms of spelling out that they intend to do,'' said League legislative director Barbara Bartoletti.
The League backed a reform bill that passed the Legislature earlier this year that would have toughened campaign-finance enforcement and for the first time require lawmakers to disclose ranges of income from outside business dealings. Lobbyists would also have had to disclose any payments to legislators.
But Paterson said the bill didn't do far enough and vetoed it. Supporters couldn't get enough votes in the Senate to override the veto.
State government has been struck by an unprecedented series of scandals over the last three years, starting with Hevesi's admission that he used public workers to chauffeur his wife around and tend to her other needs. Spitzer quit two years ago tomorrow after admitting being the client of a prostitution ring and Bruno was convicted last fall of taking money from interest groups trying to influence state government.
Paterson is now being probed over his alleged involvement in an effort to get a victim of domestic violence from pressing a case against a top gubernatorial aide, and also over whether he lied under oath about how he got tickets to last year's World Series.
Groups joining with the League in the effort pushing for reform are the New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, the Brennan Center for Justice and Citizens Union of the City of New York.
League members interested in attending the May 5 event should contact the state office at (518) 465-4162 about available bus transportation.

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