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A report released last week raised serious ethical questions about billions in state spending. Subject to Influence: New York State Agency Contracting, by the New York Public Interest Research Group, based its findings on information from the state comptroller’s office. It found $26 billion out of the $42 billion in New York State agencies’ contracts between 2001 to 2003 were awarded in an “influence-able” process, which wasn’t based primarily on the prices bid by the vendors, and therefore left open the question of whether the vendors won their contracts fair and square. The report found several of the vendors with contracts had donated to politicians, providing a collective $2.2 million between 1999 and 2003; 29 percent of that went directly to Governor Pataki and the State Republican Committee. Vendors in health, construction and financial services industries top the list of campaign donors who received contracts and 15 vendors appear to have violated New York State campaign finance law by exceeding donation limits. The report draws attention to the fairness of the state contracting system again. That had already been questioned in the light of the jailing of Guy Velella, the former state senator indicted for illegally influencing state contracting. The report calls on the state comptroller’s office to regulate lobbying efforts that influence government contracts and to examine campaign contributions by state contractors more closely. [1/17/05]

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