If you work on Wall Street, you don't want to get a phone call from Eliot Spitzer, New York's attorney general. After all, he's become a household name for cracking down on conflicts of interest. So imagine the surprise of the assistant for Stanley Druckenmiller, a prominent hedge-fund manager, when Spitzer's office called last fall. The story, according to people who've heard it from Druckenmiller: the person from Spitzer's office said, with a chuckle, that it wasn't a "regulatory matter," but that Spitzer wanted to chat. Later Spitzer asked for a contribution, about $25,000 each from Druckenmiller and his wife, to the "Spitzer 2006" committee for his likely campaign as a Democrat for New York governor. The call worked--campaign-finance records show that Druckenmiller, who typically supports Republicans, and his wife, Fiona, each contributed $25,000. Druckenmiller declined to comment, but didn't deny the story. Spitzer's office confirms the call, but noted that he rarely asks for specific amounts.
Calls from an ambitious politician to raise money from wealthy financial executives are hardly unusual. But Spitzer is no ordinary politician. He's made himself the de facto regulator of the nation's markets, prosecuting cases that showed how Wall Street put its own interests ahead of the small investors it was supposed to serve. Spitzer's campaign-finance records, however, raise new questions about conflicts of interest for him. If he takes money from people in industries he's investigating, is there a chance it might color his decisions on whom to prosecute? There's no evidence that's happened, though the issue--widely discussed among people who work on Wall Street--is likely to come up more often now that his campaign is kicking into a higher gear. Last week he held a combined 45th birthday party and fund-raiser at the ESPN Zone in Times Square, where he raised about $1.5 million from about 400 guests (latest records show he's raised a total of $3.6 million; political pros say he needs $60 million to run for governor).
To be clear: Spitzer has done nothing illegal; at issue is whether his own actions meet the standards he's championed. His campaign records show, for example, that he's received money from people in such businesses as hedge funds, mutual funds and pharmaceutical companies. Hedge-fund managers who've given to Spitzer include James Chanos, Richard Perry and Louis Moore Bacon, according to the records. Many of them are Democrats who support his positions, but others say they hope their contributions will buy a measure of good will. "I can't imagine someone I'd like to give to less," says a fund manager who received three invitations to Spitzer's fund-raiser and is considering a donation. "It's better to be closer than not to someone who is public enemy No. 1 to corporate America."
Spitzer, through a spokesman, says he sees no conflicts in accepting the money if those who donate have no "pending business matters before the office." The spokesman noted that Spitzer returned a $21,000 donation from Donald Trump after it was disclosed that Trump had business before him. Others see shortfalls in his explanation. "Spitzer has to walk a very careful line and not create public expectations he can't fulfill," says Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.
Spitzer has also received money from lawyers who've defended people against him. Larry Pedowitz and John Savarese, who helped Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill fight charges from Spitzer in December 2002 over Weill's role in a controversial stock recommendation, each contributed $1,000 to Spitzer's campaign a year later. (Pedowitz and Savarese did not return calls.) During the probe, former Citigroup board member Ken Bialkin contributed $500 to Spitzer. Bialkin, a prominent New York attorney, says he wasn't trying to curry favor, adding that he had once worked with Spitzer.
Other examples: attorney Gary Naftalis represented Canary Investment Management, the first target in Spitzer's hedge-fund inquiry. Naftalis cut a deal with Spitzer for Canary to pay $40 million last year without accepting criminal liability. Two months later Naftalis's law firm contributed $10,000 to Spitzer. Naftalis now has new business with Spitzer, representing Kenneth Langone, who was recently named in a civil suit from Spitzer over the $139.5 million paid to former New York Stock Exchange chairman Dick Grasso. (Langone had led the NYSE compensation committee.) Naftalis declined to comment. Records show Spitzer also received $5,000 from the drug firm Eli Lilly in March 2003; Spitzer just filed suit against GlaxoSmithKline for not fully disclosing the side effects of Paxil. Friess Associates, a mutual-fund firm, contributed $2,000 to Spitzer last June, despite its founder's support of conservative causes. Chris Long, a spokesman for Friess, says the donation was from a fund manager who was networking. "From my point of view, it is a conflict getting contributions from executives at industries you're investigating," he adds.
Spitzer has stumbled over fund-raising in the past. In 1998, Spitzer was rebuked in a New York Times editorial for not disclosing that he had used his father's wealth to help finance his campaign. Spitzer still won the Times endorsement over former attorney general Dennis Vacco because Vacco was "an even worse choice" between "two flawed candidates," the editorial said. It referred to Spitzer's "dishonesty" and "evasions." Spitzer won by a narrow margin.
Spitzer continues to battle against conflicts of interest he sees on Wall Street. His case against Grasso includes a claim that he was conflicted--because Grasso was paid so much by the Wall Street execs who sat on his board, he didn't vigorously enforce securities laws as NYSE chairman. The case against Grasso and Langone does raise another question. Spitzer says he won't accept money from anybody doing business with his office. What about Gary Naftalis, the lawyer for Langone, whose firm gave Spitzer $10,000? Will he return the money? Unlikely. A spokesman for Spitzer said lawyers aren't under investigation.