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Spitzer Ad: 'Look, I Failed. Big Time'

12:12 PM, Jul 23, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York who resigned in 2008 after it was revealed he was a client of a prostitution ring, has a new campaign ad for his run for New York City comptroller in which Spitzer admits he "failed. Big time." The 60-second ad, which features one news anchor saying the "Sheriff of Wall Street is back," mainly focuses on Spitzer explaining why he'd like to run for comptroller, which controls the city's budget as well as the pension funds for city workers.

Watch the ad below:

"That's why I'm running: to make sure your money goes where it's supposed to go and does what it's supposed to do," Spitzer says. "And make sure the Wall Street firms that want us to invest with them play by the rules."

But will Spitzer actually make sure New Yorkers' money "goes where it's supposed to go" and "does what it's supposed to do?" By his own account and experience, it's likely he'll use his position for something else:

But what Spitzer is proposing instead—in interviews, in articles, and in his new book, Protecting Capitalism Case by Case—is to use the power of public-employee pension funds to influence corporate policies. Ostensibly, he’d do that for the sake of the public good. What’s more likely to happen is that Spitzer will use the city’s power as shareholder to extract concessions from corporate America that further a populist liberal agenda.

The current comptroller, fellow Democrat John Liu, is already doing just that. Consider a January 2011 letter Liu sent to the CEO of Siemens AG, the German engineering conglomerate in which the city’s pension funds invest, requesting that Siemens stop contributing to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber, the comptroller’s office said, “vigorously opposed environmental reform.”

“It’s not right for our shareholders’ money to support efforts that perpetuate environmental harm,” Liu wrote. “Siemens is known for green innovation, but it’s supporting a group that bends over backwards to stand in the way of environmental protection.”

That’s true enough; the Chamber has frequently opposed efforts by the EPA and Congress to regulate greenhouse gases. The Chamber’s PAC also donates heavily, though not exclusively, to Republican candidates who oppose those regulations, too. But what did any of this have to do with providing a return on investment for New York City employees’ pensions?

“Given the importance of the green economy to Siemens’ long-term business plan and the company’s reputation as a global environmental leader, we believe it is time for the Supervisory Board to formally sever the company’s relationship with the U.S. Chamber,” Liu wrote. He added for good measure: “Unlike Germany, where membership in the chamber of commerce is compulsory, membership in the U.S. Chamber is strictly voluntary.” 

So when Spitzer says as comptroller he wants to “control corporate governance,” he’ll only be redoubling current efforts. Last year, Spitzer wrote a column for Slate titled “Flawed Dimon” criticizing Jamie Dimon’s dual role as CEO and chairman of JPMorgan Chase. The post’s first sentence likely reads ominously now for the big banker: “What to do with Jamie Dimon?” The city’s top pension fund, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, invests with JPMorgan, and earlier this year Liu led a failed shareholder proposal to oust Dimon from his position as chairman. What’s to stop Spitzer from pursuing the same goal? If his tenure as New York attorney general is any indication, he may get what he wants.

Spitzer is facing Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer in the Democratic primary for comptroller. The latest poll showed Spitzer leading Stringer.

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