clean finance

I’ve never followed New York politics, so when the Eliot Spitzer scandal broke, I didn’t know much about Spitzer’s earlier career. I was in New York at the time and I followed the coverage fairly closely for about a month – just until a little after it stopped being a major story. Today I was catching up on some old New Yorker reading and I came across this, which I didn’t see mentioned in any of the post-scandal stories I read:

Perhaps the most significant support came from his family. The 1994 campaign had been funded in large part by a $4.3-million bank loan that Spitzer took out, using as collateral some apartments that he owned; he told the press that he was servicing the loan with his own income. In 1998, a few days before Election Day, in a nasty race with the incumbent, Dennis Vacco, he admitted that he had been paying off the bank with a loan his father had given him on generous terms. In effect, he’d received a $4.3-million campaign donation from his father, which is well in excess of family donation limits, and lied about it. (The Board of Elections declined to investigate.) Michael Goodwin, a columnist at the News, asked Spitzer why he’d lied, and Spitzer told him, according to Goodwin, “I had to”—a phrase that Spitzer’s detractors have lorded over him ever since, as a kind of shorthand for a streak of dishonesty and hypocrisy. (Spitzer says that he doesn’t remember any such conversation.) Nonetheless, after a hotly contested recount, Spitzer won.

From earlier in the article, which came out in the December 10, 2007 issue, when it looked like he’d have a full term in office:

Spitzer’s agenda, broadly and loftily speaking, is to make the workings of Albany more transparent: to disentangle the corrosive influence of the special interests and to combat, if not eliminate, the nest-feathering that flourishes in the dark. Campaign-finance reform is an essential part of this.

That said, had he been successful in this reform it probably would have been a good thing, whatever the details of his own past campaigns.

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