Faso Accuses Spitzer of Conflict of Interest Over Donor
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ALBANY — Republican candidate for governor John Faso accused Democrat Eliot Spitzer yesterday of a conflict of interest for taking campaign contributions from a lobbyist whose client is in court against the state.
The Wisconsin Oneida tribe is represented by lobbyist Richard Fields, who is a contributor to Mr. Spitzer’s campaign for governor. Mr. Spitzer, as state attorney general, is representing the state against the tribe in its effort to secure ancestral land in New York state. The tribe also hopes to build a casino and hired Mr. Fields, who is also a casino developer, to lobby Albany for approval.
Mr. Faso said Mr. Fields’ interests in influencing state action violates Spitzer’s own standard of refusing to take campaign donations from anyone or any company that has business before him as attorney general.
“It is a clear conflict of interest that, at the very least, creates the appearance of impropriety,” said Mr. Faso, an attorney and former state Assembly Republican leader.
On July 30, the New York Daily News reported that Mr. Fields held a July 18 fundraiser for Mr. Spitzer at his Jackson Hole, Wyo., home and his companies contributed $200,000.
“Once again, John Faso is lobbing angry campaign attacks before getting his facts straight,” said Mr. Spitzer’s campaign spokeswoman, Christine Anderson.
Mr. Spitzer’s standard for accepting contributions, which is more stringent than law, doesn’t extend to people hired by a company on other issues, according the Mr. Spitzer campaign. In this case, Mr. Fields has nothing to do with the land claim case, couldn’t lobby on a lawsuit anyway, and works only on the tribe’s effort to build a casino in New York, Ms. Anderson said.
Mr. Spitzer, representing the Republican Pataki administration, is seeking to dismiss the tribe’s case.
But Mr. Faso notes Mr. Fields is also a casino developer and would likely have a direct benefit if the tribe gains land in New York and with it the legal status to try to open a casino. Mr. Fields is also part of a consortium seeking the state’s lucrative thoroughbred racing franchise.
“He would have a piece of the (casino) action and that is an enormous difference,” Mr. Faso told The Associated Press. “The fact that they refuse to acknowledge this and refuse to come clean on this shows an enormous arrogance and it shows that there is one set of rules for Eliot Spitzer and one for everyone else.”
Mr. Faso noted that Mr. Spitzer made much of his national reputation in prosecuting conflicts of interest on Wall Street.
Last week, Mr. Faso asked the state lobbying commission to investigate Spitzer payment to Mr. Fields for use of his jet on a campaign trip. Mr. Spitzer paid $4,301 for use of the jet from Phoenix to Tucson to Cincinnati to New York City. The campaign based the value on commercial air travel tickets as called for in federal law because there was no clear New York statute.
Mr. Faso said that lobbying laws would have put the cost at $30,000 higher because it would have included fuel, taxes and other costs associated with hiring a charter flight and using small airfields. If the lobbying commission finds the charge was too little, Mr. Fields could face a fine.
This week the Spitzer campaign changed its policy.
“What we did was correct and proper, however because questions have been raised and because we always endeavor to hold ourselves to the highest standards, going forward, if charter flights are used by the campaign we will reimburse for all costs and thereby go further than New York state and federal election law which we have strictly followed to date,” Ms. Anderson said.
The campaign won’t reimburse Mr. Fields more for the flight earlier this year, she said.
Last year Mr. Spitzer’s running mate, state Sen. David Paterson, accepted a flight from Mr. Fields on a trip from Westchester County to Albany. Mr. Paterson, now running for lieutenant governor, had to pay Mr. Fields $4,500 earlier this year. Mr. Paterson had originally reimbursed Mr. Fields $176.
Fields agreed to pay a $9,000 fine and bill Paterson $4,500 for the flight.
“That they repeat the same pattern with the same guy is simply shocking,” Mr. Faso said. He said Mr. Spitzer should pay for Mr. Fields’ flight “in full” and return all contributions collected through Mr. Fields.