Gov. Eliot Spitzer is packing his bags again for another bash-the-Legislature road tour. This time, Senate Republicans are his target.
After the Republican-led Senate on Monday dismissed his ideas to sharply reduce political donations by individuals, companies and political action committees, Spitzer said he will begin traveling into the districts of GOP senators "to make very clear to the citizens of this state that the Republican temporary majority of the State Senate was not willing to say 'We believe in reform.' "
His comments Monday were reminiscent of his political scorched-earth approach he used in February to criticize Assembly Democrats after they bucked him on the appointment of a new state comptroller. Spitzer, who wants to break the GOP hold on the Senate majority next year, was planning to make his first stop this morning in a Senate district near the Capitol.
While he still has an ambitious legislative agenda before lawmakers leave town in June, Spitzer appeared to take some delight in turning up the rhetoric against lawmakers again. Why no deal?
"The Republican members of the State Senate were unwilling to break their addiction to the free flow of money. It is a narcotic to which they are beholden. It is a narcotic which has funded them for too long," he said.
It didn't take long, but ultimate fighting has returned to the Capitol.
In a session punctuated by a series of mini-wars, the campaign finance dispute -- whether to sharply limit political donations by individuals, companies and political action committees -- surfaced Monday for real when Spitzer attacked the present system as "rigged in favor of incumbents."
He told a group of government watchdog advocates that the Legislature's reaction to his plan -- which he decided to keep secret -- would be a test of its "true colors."
Hours later, though, the Legislature's top Republican derided Spitzer's plan as harmful to freedom of speech and being a back-door benefit to wealthy politicians who can finance their own campaigns; Spitzer is a millionaire.
"This is America," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said.
At issue is Spitzer's call to cut to no more than $15,000 the present $55,800 donation limit from individuals to statewide candidates. He wants to ban donations from limited liability corporations and subsidiary companies -- two ways individuals and corporations use loopholes to avoid current donation limits. Corporations would be limited to annual, aggregate donations of $5,000. "Soft money" accounts that are used by parties to collect unregulated amounts of "housekeeping" expenses -- an avenue Spitzer called the "loopholes of all loopholes" -- would see donation limits from unions, companies and PACs set at $50,000. And PACs could give only a total of $350,000 annually; there are no limits now.
Bruno said Spitzer's plan has its own loopholes; certain independent groups that spend money to defeat or elect candidates are not covered by Spitzer's plan, Bruno said.
Bruno countered after Spitzer's threats to target his members that the sides were already 90 percent in agreement and that Spitzer, instead of flying around the state, should remain in Albany and negotiate a deal. "That is governing," he said.
Also Monday, Spitzer said gay rights advocates should not expect the state's laws regarding same-sex marriage to be changed this year.
The governor, who supports same-sex marriage rights, said he would fulfill a campaign pledge to introduce legislation giving homosexuals the legal right to marry in New York.
But with an already ambitious agenda he wants completed in the last nine weeks of the 2007 legislative session, and a Legislature reluctant to act on the matter, Spitzer held out no hope that the same-sex marriage issue would be resolved before lawmakers leave Albany around the end of June.
"No, I do not think there is a realistic shot that it gets passed, but I will submit it because it's a statement of principle that I believe in and I want to begin that dynamic," Spitzer told reporters.