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Libby Pataki is raking it in

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For the second time since Gov. George Pataki took office in 1995, his wife Libby last year was the family's main breadwinner.

It was, admittedly, with more than a little help from his friends.

The Patakis voluntarily released their 2003 income tax returns on Thursday, showing the couple cleared $517,030 last year, $339,293 from her work as a consultant, corporate board director and paid speechmaker.

Pataki chipped in with his $179,000-a-year gubernatorial salary and $67,520 from three speeches he delivered in Florida, Maryland and Washington.

The family income was offset by more than $60,000 in business losses - mainly from the fact that Pataki made just $3,000 from selling alfalfa off a $1 million farm he bought last year on Lake Champlain. His expenses on the new spread were almost $50,000.

Libby Pataki displayed what appeared to be a better head for business.

She got $80,000 from cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, whose payroll she has been on since 1995 when her husband first became governor with Lauder's financial help. Mrs. Pataki also received $50,000 last year from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, an organization headed by Lauder's sister-in-law, Evelyn Lauder.

She got $77,500 from the Wheelchair Foundation and $55,000 from FFD Trust II, a Cendant Corporation entity created to enhance Fairfield Resorts' time-share properties. Cendant Chairman Henry Silverman is a major Pataki campaign contributor and sits on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is controlled by Pataki and Democratic Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey.

There was also $37,500 from Premier Heart Inc., a Long Island-based medical equipment company headed by Richard Hayden, a Pataki classmate at Yale University and Columbia Law School. Libby Pataki is also in a real estate business partnership with Hayden.

The governor's wife also made $22,500 from two speeches she gave last year in California and Puerto Rico.

Since Pataki became governor, Libby Pataki has brought in $1.5 million.

"I'm just very proud of her and what she does," Pataki said when asked about his wife's work.

"When I met her and we were first going out, she was a very successful professional," he said. "She started out working at Time Warner in a great position; then went on to Paine Webber where she was the top administrator in setting up their international department back in the early 70s.

"She could have had a very lucrative and successful career, but took time off to help us raise the (four) kids and help me run for public office," Pataki added. "The kids are older now … so Libby is working a lot more than she was back when the kids were younger, and I respect that."

When she re-entered the work force in 1995, Mrs. Pataki received $47,929 from Lauder for her consulting work. By 1998, she was making $170,000 and provided 69 percent of the family's income. In 2002, she made $206,500. Her income rose by 64 percent last year as she edged up on $340,000, or 65 percent of the family income.

Some are suspicious of the big money pulled down by the governor's wife.

"She may be very qualified for what she's doing, but certainly it is more than most New Yorkers would be making from such things," said Rachel Leon, executive director of the New York chapter of Common Cause.

"It's a powerful circle that rewards its friends," Leon said.

"Mrs. Pataki is a strong, talented and intelligent woman," Pataki spokeswoman Lisa Dewald Stoll said Friday. "She is undoubtedly an asset to the organizations that seek her expertise as either a consultant or a speaker and she is a role model for women who choose to balance a career and family."

Pataki hasn't had a pay raise as governor since 1999 when the annual salary was raised by the Legislature to $179,000, up from $130,000.

The Pataki family model is not unprecedented.

When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton became the family's main earner as a partner with the Rose law firm in Little Rock. He made $33,000 a year as governor.

"In the 21st century, spouses have careers," said Blair Horner, a frequent government critic as the New York Public Interest Research Group's main Albany watchdog. "What elected officials and their spouses have to always be aware of is how it looks to the public.

"As long as the public knows about it, and there doesn't appear to be any effort to shield that information, then the voters can draw their own conclusions, whatever they are," Horner added.

Marc Humbert has covered New York politics and government for The Associated Press for more than 25 years.

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