With Governor Spitzer's administration coming to an end Monday, the governor must decide what to do with his remaining campaign funds.
He could use the money, about $2.9 million, to cover legal fees as he mounts a defense against possible charges stemming from his alleged patronage of a high-priced prostitution service.
"It's a gray area," the executive director of Citizens Union, Richard Dadey, replied in an interview to a question about whether Mr. Spitzer could use contributions to cover legal fees. "Elected officials have used campaign funds in the past to pay for legal funds after they've run afoul of the law, but this would be an interesting case because it's not directly related to his tenure as governor."
New York State law allows former candidates to keep their campaign war chests even after leaving office, meaning that Mr. Spitzer could hold onto the funds for future use or spend them in a variety of ways. One option is contributing his funds to other campaigns or to the state's Democratic Party. Mr. Spitzer could also donate the money to a nonprofit organization or charity.
Another move would be to refund the contributions to donors and disband the campaign fund entirely. Some observers say this would be the most preferable option.
"I think that would be an ethical thing to," a government reform coordinator at the New York Public Interest Research Group, Neal Rosenstein, said yesterday. "It's not as if he lost an election and had money left over in his account. He really violated the trust that people gave to him when they signed those checks and we would like to see the money go to something other than consultants and legal expenses."
Contributors to Mr. Spitzer's campaign, upset by the governor's recent scandal, could push the issue.
"There are donors who are saying he should return the money," a political consultant, George Arzt, said yesterday. "I've heard that from quite a number of people."
A spokesman for Mr. Spitzer could not be reached for comment. The official Web site for his re-election committee, Spitzer 2010 Inc., had been taken down as of last night, displaying only a line of blue text reading "Eliot Spitzer" and an e-mail form for sending "comments" to an unspecified entity.
The issue of what to do with unused contributions recently landed Mr. Spitzer's predecessor, Governor Pataki, in hot water. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Mr. Pataki had used $1.4 million in funds from a committee he had created to explore a possible run for president long after he had decided not to run. The money was used for such items as Broadway tickets and consulting fees.