Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer: I Shot The Wall Street Sheriff

As expected, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's troubles are bringing tears to the eyes of many Wall Street power brokers. These are not tears of sorrow but of joy at the downfall of a longtime nemesis.
There's no need to go over Spitzer's bizarre conduct and why he's resigned. This is, after all, a family blog and the details of his tryst (is that even the right word?) can be easily found.
Going forward, it's safe to predict that Spitzer won't be remembered for his crime-busting work as New York State Attorney General. During his tenure, Spitzer was one of the few public officials who aggressively cracked down on the flagrant excesses and misconduct of New York-based investment firms and bankers.
In that one regard, we could use more like him.
Dubbed the "Sheriff of Wall Street", Spitzer confronted some of the world's richest and most powerful financial institutions, forcing them to pay hefty fines, treat clients fairly and reform their evil ways. While the Securities and Exchange Commission was taking a long snooze, Spitzer was shaking up Wall Street by going after glaring conflict of interests that put investors at risk.
One example: Merrill Lynch & Co., where so-called "independent" researchers were boosting stocks of companies that were also Merrill's clients. Merrill paid a $100 million fine and was forced to heel by separating its research staff from the firm's investment banking arm.
No fan of fat cats, Spitzer also took on Richard Grasso, former head of the New York Stock Exchange, who sought to walk away from his post with a $187 million exit package. In a lawsuit, Spitzer alleged Grasso misled the NYSE, a not-for-profit at the time, to get his plump payout.
Closer to home, Spitzer went after locally-based Aon Corp., a huge insurance brokerage firm, on corruption charges. Aon paid a $190 million settlement and set the stage to hire a new CEO to replace Patrick Ryan, who's now executive chairman of the insurance firm.
Those are only a few of his targets.
Wall Street types and many CEOs hated this guy. But the public liked the idea of an Eliot Ness of white-collar crime tracking down crooks and looking out for investors' interest. That image helped get him elected governor of New York and even sparked talk of an eventual presidential run.
That's all over now. I can't even imagine what Spitzer must do to repair the damage inflicted on himself, his family and career.
Yeah, to some it's ironic and funny. A squeaky-clean reform pol gets caught in one of the oldest badger games in history.
Ha ha.
Still, Spitzer's Wall Street opponents shouldn't laugh that hard. Remember, he also did a pretty good job of catching them with their pants down.

(Illustration courtesy of NewsCopyNewYork)

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