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The Auburn Citizen

Opponents of bottle bill boost send bucks to Bruno
By The Associated Press

ALBANY - Leading opponents of legislation to expand New York's bottle deposit law to include non-carbonated beverages are staging a major fundraiser for state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and his GOP colleagues in the chamber.

Thus far, Bruno and his fellow Senate Republicans have turned back efforts to expand the bottle deposit law, an idea supported by new Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the state Assembly's Democratic majority. The fundraiser comes at a crucial time in the Albany political cycle with less than a month to go in the Legislature's scheduled annual session.

Invitees to the fundraiser, scheduled for Thursday at a restaurant in Manhattan, are being asked to write checks for $5,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee's housekeeping account, a soft-money conduit that skirts the state's annual maximum of $5,000 in contributions by any one corporation for New York elections.

In fact, an invitation to the event honoring Bruno tells potential donors that such donations “do not apply toward the $5,000 corporate calendar year limit.”

Soft money accounts can be used to finance party building activities that do not expressly advocate for the election of specific candidates.

The fundraiser for the Senate GOP comes as Spitzer and Bruno are locked in a major battle over the governor's attempts to overhaul New York's notoriously lax campaign finance laws by, among other things, limiting corporate donations to soft-money campaign committees to $50,000. Currently, there are no limits on those donations.

The Manhattan event is being promoted by, among others, the Food Industry Alliance of New York State and the Washington-based national Grocery Manufacturers/Food Products Association. The groups represent everyone from supermarkets to major beverage manufacturers.

Under the proposed legislation in New York, the state's deposit law would be expanded to include such things as iced tea and bottled water. Currently, only carbonated beverages such as beer and soda require nickel deposits on each container.

While the environmental community has been pushing the expansion of New York's 25-year-old law, the proposal has been under attack from the food and beverage industry, which has said it would mean higher costs and inconvenience for consumers. The industry is pressing an expansion of recycling programs as an alternative.

While Bruno and his Senate colleagues have generally been cool to talk of expanding the law in the past, James Rogers, president of the Food Industry Alliance, said Wednesday that his group isn't taking any chances.

“We have not recently gotten any sort of assurances one way or the other (from the Senate GOP), so until the Legislature adjourns, as far as we're concerned, nothing is definite,” said the head of the industry lobbying alliance.

Rogers also said that when it comes to dealing with New York's state government “things that appear to be locked down are not locked down and things that appear to be dormant are not dormant, so we continue to work this issue until the Legislature goes home.”

In fact, some Senate Republicans are eyeing legislation that would expand the deposit law in a limited way.

Rogers said his group has also done fundraising in the past for Democrats, but has no current plans for any events for them.

The fundraiser drew criticism from the New York Public Interest Research Group.

“You could call this a kind of recycling - opponents of the `Bigger Better Bottle Bill' are recycling the public's unclaimed nickels into cold cash for the Senate Republicans,” said NYPIRG's Laura Haight. “We think the unclaimed deposits should go to help New York's environment, not support the status quo in Albany.”

The NYPIRG-backed expansion would have money from unclaimed deposits - estimates vary from $80 million to $140 million a year - go into state coffers to help finance environmental projects. Currently, the money stays with the beverage industry.

Under one proposal with some Senate GOP support, deposits would be expanded to non-carbonated beverages, but the unclaimed deposits issue would not be addressed.

Asked about the GOP fundraiser, the Spitzer-controlled state Democratic Committee used the opportunity to blast Bruno.

“Without resorting to name calling and bitter rhetoric, we simply wish to point out to all those who want change in Albany that Senator Bruno and his colleagues in the Senate majority conference are the ones who are blocking any progress on this issue,” said a statement from the Democrats.

“They are doing so because they want to protect the current tainted system,” the Democrats said.


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