The two top Democrats in the Legislature said today they are moving toward a consensus on an ethics reform package that could receive lawmaker approval early next year, but they indicated that there will likely be some changes to the sweeping plan Gov. Corzine pitched in September.

Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex) said lawmakers are working on a plan they can agree on and that the final bills will include changes to campaign finances (read: pay-to-play) and wheeling, a method of ducking limits on political donations.

Codey said a key factor is imposing campaign finance restrictions while still ensuring that candidates who aren't rich enough to pay for their own campaigns can still raise the money needed to run for office.

But Codey did not embrace a full ban on wheeling. He said there would be at least severe restrictions. Codey said the reforms would likely begin moving early next year.

Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., (D., Camden), who echoed Codey's concerns about squeezing out candidates who can't pay for their own campaigns, said he hoped some bills could begin moving in Assembly committees by the end of the year.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr., (R., Union) said he hoped to work with Corzine on the reforms but that no one had reached out to Republicans. He called for further changes, including an aggregate limit on how much a donor can give in one year and rules barring convicted public officials from using their remaining campaign money. That change would impact former Camden County Sen. Wayne Bryant, who was convicted on corruption charges last month and still has roughly $604,000 of campaign money at his disposal.

More details in tomorrow's Inquirer.

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