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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Shame of Eliot Spitzer

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has implicitly admitted to engaging in an illegal prostitution ring.  Even though the news is just a few hours old, there is already an outpouring of posts about the scandal.  I would recommend Daniel Gross's excellent piece about how Spitzer was caught with tactics similar to those he employed on others.  Corporate law bloggers Stephen Bainbridge, Larry Ribstein, and Christine Hurt have also weighed in on the news.

I just wanted to speak briefly as a supporter of Eliot Spitzer's work as attorney general.  In the past, I have blogged over at the Conglomerate and here at PrawfsBlawg in favor of his initiatives to reform Wall Street.  I have also written a paper praising the agreement his office negotiated between New York greengrocers and their employees regarding minimum wage violations.  I thought the historic settlement regarding conflicts of interest at investment banks, as well as his office's pursuit of mutual-fund trade-timing, were surprisingly effective efforts to change unfair but generally accepted practices.

Now, however, that is all gone.  The reforms may not be gone, but his legacy is.  Now, thanks to his abhorrent violation of the law, the debate between Spitzer supporters and opponents is over.  Now, when supporters speak of his work and the work of people in his office, the easy response is "Client No. 9."  Anyone supporting Eliot Spitzer as a expression of support for his policies now feels like a fool.

So I feel most sorry for those who truly believed in Spitzer -- those who worked for him and sacrificed their careers so that they could serve under him.  I was a supporter -- an academic who could blog and write about his policies from a distance.  But there were many who sacrificed their time, money, and careers to support Eliot Spitzer as a way of supporting his agenda of reform.  The volunteer who went door-to-door, the assistant A.G. who worked on corporate fraud, the summer intern who uncovered crucial evidence -- for them, the legacy of their work has come crashing down.

In his statement today, Spitzer said:

Over the past nine years, eight as attorney general and one as governor, I’ve tried to uphold a vision of progressive politics that would rebuild New York and create opportunity for all. . . . Today, I want to briefly address a private matter. I have acted in a way that violated the obligations to my family and that violates my — or any — sense of right and wrong. . . . I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and doing what is best for the State of New York. But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard that I expected of myself.

It seems clear that Spitzer wants to separate out his legacy as AG from his personal failings.  But that is impossible.  This was not merely a personal sin -- it was a violation of state and potentially federal law.  His crimes are a conversation stopper; they are now the beginning and end of his political bio.

And thus, what began with such idealism ends in venality.  Spitzer's critics are enjoying a fair amount of schadenfreude today.  And I can't say I blame them.  Spitzer the man deserves all that he is getting.  However, I feel sorry for all of those who worked for Spitzer the A.G.  His legacy -- their legacy -- is now irrevocably tarnished.

Posted by Matt Bodie on March 10, 2008 at 07:18 PM in Corporate, Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

I agree that the work done by his office has nothing to do with his later illegal behavior -- except that both are inextricably tied to Eliot Spitzer. So his personal failings taint the work of his office. When I said "sacrificed their careers," I meant that many had come to the AGs office from another job -- they had made a choice to join his office. They often had given up other prominent positions in order to do so. Now, that line of their resume has an asterisk. Sure, I agree -- they should be totally different issues. But they aren't.

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Mar 11, 2008 8:21:28 AM

"I was a supporter -- an academic who could blog and write about his policies from a distance. But there were many who sacrificed their time, money, and careers to support Eliot Spitzer as a way of supporting his agenda of reform. The volunteer who went door-to-door, the assistant A.G. who worked on corporate fraud, the summer intern who uncovered crucial evidence -- for them, the legacy of their work has come crashing down."

How does Eliot Spitzer's use of a prostitute have anything to do with the value of the corporate fraud work down by the people in his office. How have they "sacrificed" their careers? Or are you saying that his prosecution will affect their marketability . . maybe, but that would be a shame. The work was what it was, whether or not Eliot Spitzer has used prostitutes.

Posted by: anon | Mar 11, 2008 1:29:32 AM

This guy was angling for the prez job one day. Guess that's not a career option anymore. Amazing how quickly everything goes up in smoke that was so carefully planned and built.

Posted by: Allan | Mar 11, 2008 12:15:22 AM

Why is everyone describing his behavior as "engaging in an illegal prostitution ring?" That makes it sound like he was some kind of a pimp.

What?

He arranged to meet, presumably hired, a prostitute. Surely naughty, but not *evil* (I'm given to understand the prostitute was expensive, so this probably isn't a particularly exploitative relationship, as prostitution relationships go...). It would have been better if he'd slept with an intern like Bill Clinton, or kept it in his pants, like ... well, surely like some politician in history (Jimmy Carter?).

But gimme a break. Seriously.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Mar 10, 2008 10:07:40 PM

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