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PATAKI'S BID FOR LIKE-MINDED JUDGES USES PHANTOM COMMITTEE AIDED BY D'AMATO

Gov. Pataki's campaign to elect Republicans to key judgeships is getting a big boost from U.S. Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, including $50,000 from the campaign fund for U.S. senators and the creation of a phantom campaign committee in Washington, D.C.

Pataki and the state Republican Party are trying to elect more Republicans to the state court that decides most of the lawsuits brought against the governor and his policies. With D'Amato's help, the Republicans have launched a major advertising blitz for three Republican women running for Supreme Court in Albany and seven neighboring counties.

The Republicans are also avoiding the legal limits on campaign contributions to these candidates by creating a phantom campaign committee, the New York State Victory Committee. That committee has the same address and telephone number as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, of which D'Amato is chairman.

But the Victory Committee is not an actual committee and does not have its own staff. Instead, the committee is one of eight campaign funds established by New York Republicans.

By transferring funds between these committees, the Republicans bypass many of the contribution limits and public-disclosure requirements in New York State law, according to the state Board of Elections. Without the Victory Committee, the $50,000 from D'Amato's committee could not have been spent on the television ads now blanketing the Albany area.

Establishing the Victory Committee also allows the state Republican Party to donate an unlimited amount of money to the candidates, since party committees can share funds without the limits placed on contributions on individuals and corporations.

"They're very clever at finding loopholes," said state Democratic Chairwoman Judith Hope. She accused D'Amato and state Republican Chairman William D. Powers of trying to "buy" the judgeships.

The GOP began its campaign with Pataki appointing one of the candidates, Victoria Graffeo, to a vacant judgeship. The state Senate then called a special, one-day session largely to confirm that appointment and allow Ms. Graffeo to campaign as an incumbent for a full 14-year term.

So far, Pataki has failed to win many important cases in Supreme Court, where several of his major policy decisions have been struck down.

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