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The I-hate-Spitzer club
N.Y.'s Attorney General has predictably made enemies, but should Wall St. listen to his detractors?
December 9, 2005: 12:55 PM EST
By Katie Benner, CNN/Money staff writer
Spitzer's detractors are emerging, and they want us to believe that the Attorney General is hurting Wall Street.
Spitzer's detractors are emerging, and they want us to believe that the Attorney General is hurting Wall Street.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money.com) - Eliot Spitzer has made powerful enemies by bringing down entrenched CEOs and shaking-up such Wall Street stalwarts as the mutual fund industry.

Now one of those foes has come out against Spitzer and his campaign to become New York's governor.

Kenneth Langone claims that the state attorney general, sometimes trumpeted in the media as a defender of the public good and champion of truth, will hurt New York business interests if he is elected to the top job. (Full story)

Langone -- a co-founder of Home Depot -- was named in a lawsuit by Spitzer for his role as ex-chairman of the New York Stock Exchange's compensation committee, with the attorney general alleging that Langone misled the NYSE Board of Directors about ex-exchange chairman Richard Grasso's $193 million compensation package.

It's not hard to establish that Langone -- who has denied any wrongdoing -- has a bone to pick with Spitzer. But some believe that his argument bears a second look.

Unnecessary force

Langone might have an advocate in Paul Newsome, an insurance industry analyst with AG Edwards.

"[Spitzer] uncovered some serious problems, like bid rigging at Marsh that was unequivocally bad," Newsome said. "But from a total insurance industry perspective, it is a very narrow practice."

"The way Spitzer handled it caused extensive legal costs. A company like Marsh and McLennan is going to pass that on to the consumer, and shareholders will take a hit on falling stock prices," said Newsome. "In the end, he didn't make the industry more efficient. He just brought to bear more lawyers and more scrutiny."

Moreover, state Republican Party chairman Stephen Minarik has said that Spitzer's well-documented Wall Street rows have made it harder to do business and create jobs in New York, particularly since the financial services industry contributes significantly to gross state product.

In defense of the prosecutor

But on the other side of the fence are proponents of the attorney general who say that near-term business losses will be more than offset by structural change that should, in theory, benefit businesses over a longer period.

"Because Spitzer created a truth machine, outside directors are starting to really act like outside directors at AIG," said Jim Tierney, former attorney general of Maine and director of the attorney general program at Columbia Law School.

And structural change is what Spitzer wants for the longterm health of the business community, once telling the Wall Street Journal, "If you won't play by the rules because it's the right thing to do; then do it because it's good for business and good for the nation's economy."

Moreover, the financial services sector will see upbeat annual earnings for 2005, despite Spitzer's many high-profile legal battles.

"Spitzer is caught in a much older debate over how much regulation one can have before it slows economic growth, and whether market forces on their own can remedy inconsistencies and biases," said Tierney.

Watchdog in the governor's mansion

Just how bad for business can a governor really be?

Jim Glassman, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that Spitzer would have less power over Wall Street as governor because he would no longer be a direct law enforcement officer.

However, he would still have incredible indirect power over business interests if elected to the top job in Albany, where the budget and the $100 billion in tax cuts pushed through by Gov. George Pataki during his administration are the main preoccupation.

According to Pataki's press office, New York has reduced taxes by more than any other state in the nation. And the tax burden was greatly reduced for businesses in an attempt to stimulate the state's economy.

Mark Jaffe, president of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, says that if he's elected governor, Spitzer would have immense executive power to direct future tax decisions. That's a way in which Spitzer can have a direct impact on business.

Even if Langone can convince business that Spitzer is the enemy, he'll be hardpressed to sway the public at large. The attorney general is ahead of any would-be Republican rival by about 40 percentage points.

"Spitzer's track record, in cases large and small, has a clear agenda that the attorney general's office characterizes as standing up for the little guy – from underpaid employees at New York City green grocers to investors shortchanged by bid rigging," said John Coffee, Director of Columbia University's Center on Corporate Governance.

"And maybe if you gain enough public esteem there's a tipping point that makes even the companies you're attacking take your side in the end."

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Read why Kenneth Langone is campaigning against Spitzer.

Read more about Spitzer's campaign for governor.  Top of page

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