Paterson Offers Compromise Ethics Bill

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    Gov. Paterson, in an attempt to, reconcile a bill with the Legislature, vetoed the previous bill because he said it was too weak.

    Gov. David Paterson on Saturday proposed a compromise ethics bill to the Legislature which, enraged by his veto of their bill, is planning an override in the most heated conflict yet between the Democratic governor and the Democratic legislative leaders.

    Paterson's bill would create a commission to weigh possible conflicts of interest between elected officials and their law clients and income, apparently without making the clients or income public. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, both lawyers, had strongly opposed revealing law clients and the outside income publicly.

    Paterson says Democratic legislative leaders have resisted his attempt to negotiate a compromise, although lawmakers had said it was Paterson who refused to work out a deal. Paterson's new proposal includes elements pushed by the Republican minority of the Senate.

    "I hope (the proposal) will serve as the basis for meaningful negotiations among legislative leaders,'' Paterson said Saturday.

    The new proposal alters some of Paterson's previous proposal, which the Legislature rejected. One change is the creation of an ethics commission to investigate lawmakers and a separate ethics commission to investigate the executive branch. Paterson previously sought an ethics regulator to enforce the same laws uniformly, but lawmakers citing separation of powers and other concerns sought their own agency.

    Paterson also now seeks to reduce maximum campaign contributions by 50 percent, limiting contributions to so-called housekeeping accounts that parties can use, and requiring the return of unused campaign funds when an official leaves office, among other measures.

    Paterson vetoed the Legislature's bill because he said it was too weak, coming at a time when ethical behavior in Albany has drawn national headlines.

    "I'm encouraged,'' Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York said about the ethics fight that has split Albany's good-government groups. "It certainly shows the governor is being flexible in his approach.''

    "What's listed in the governor's bill I think is a reasonable package, and I hope all involved will take this as a basis for negotiation and show the people of New York that they really can get something done,'' she said.

    Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said true compromise comes from negotiations, and Paterson and the Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly aren't talking.

    "Ultimately reform occurs with the passage of legislation, not through the issuance of press releases,'' Horner said. "We are urging an override.''

    More than 20 years ago, Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo vetoed the Legislature's ethics bill and negotiated what was generally considered a stronger bill with legislative leaders.

    Lawmakers have called their measure the most sweeping reform in years, while acknowledging more reform is needed. Sponsors said it was the strongest bill they could get lawmakers to vote for. Many said Paterson opposed their efforts to boost his low polling numbers.

    Senate Republicans, in the chamber in which Democrats hold 32 of

    62 seats, have said they might block a Democratic override of Paterson's veto. A two-thirds vote is needed.

    "It looks like the governor is making a real effort to compromise,'' said John McArdle, spokesman for the Senate's Republican minority, which discussed Saturday's compromise with Paterson. "What is disappointing is that, thus far, the Democrats have refused to meet or negotiate on the issue.''

    The Assembly's Democratic majority didn't commit to working with the Democratic governor on his proposal.

    "Any further action on ethics will be determined by members of the Assembly Majority conference,'' said Dan Weiller, spokesman for Silver.

    "I can't comment on a bill negotiated in secret with the Senate minority,'' said Austin Shafran, spokesman for Sen. Sampson. "Senator Sampson is prepared to override the veto and deliver real ethics reform.''