Ed Driscoll

Spitzer's Conflict Of Interest

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, William J. Holstein, the editor of Chief Executive magazine, says that New York state’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who’s now–or will very shortly be–running for that state’s governorship, has what Holstein describes as “a classic conflict of interest” caused by his endless Giuliani-inspired attacks on Wall Street:

Mr. Spitzer has thus created a reasonable doubt about whether he is using the legal process for political gain. An attorney general running for higher office is different than a senator running because it creates a risk that the legal system becomes politicized and is no longer seen as adhering to principles of fair play and due process. In short, Mr. Spitzer has a classic conflict of interest. The only way to resolve it is to resign as attorney general.

Consider the appearance that the New York attorney general’s fund-raising activities will increasingly create. If an industry or company that has not been targeted contributes to his campaign, is Mr. Spitzer accepting that money in exchange for not investigating them? And what if a CEO under fire makes a contribution and is able to resolve his or her legal problems? That might create the appearance that Mr. Spitzer softened his prosecution in exchange for a contribution. Because appearance is everything, Mr. Spitzer essentially cannot raise funds while serving as attorney general.

Ironically, the cornerstone of Mr. Spitzer’s actions has been an attack on conflicts of interest and cozy relationships that had long been tolerated. He is attempting to create a new ethical standard. Yet he has turned a blind eye to his own ethical problem. If he wants to set new, higher standards of conduct in corporate America, he must himself adhere to those new expectations.

Seems reasonable to me, especially by Spitzer’s own standards. Over to you, Elliot.