Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Libido can't dilute Spitzer’s contribution to clean markets

Some sections of Wall Street are in celebration mode. Others are deeply disappointed. Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York, once the fire-spitting crusader attorney general of the State of New York, who had cleaned up the capital market with his incisive prosecution of questionable practices on Wall Street, has owned up to having availed of the services of a high-premium prostitution ring.

Spitzer had broken new ground in ensuring cleanliness in financial services. He had been bang on target in questioning the credibility of authors of equity research in relation to securities whose offerings were managed by the firms that employed the researchers. He pushed for accountability from the top brass of New York Stock Exchange, questioned practices in the insurance industry, and even trained his guns on New York travel agencies that promoted planned sex tourism trips to Asia.

Spitzer extracted fantastic settlements, and came to be regarded as a dreaded moral force in the United States. In a nutshell, the “Sheriff of New York” changed the way Wall Street functioned. For instance, many firms, for fear of how their e-mail records would be interpreted years later, shifted from e-mail writing to voice-message recording as the primary means of transmitting messages.

Ironically, it is the voice records of Spitzer that have landed him in trouble. Investigators, who were hoping to trap Spitzer with evidence of profiting from flesh trade, tapped his phone calls, e-mail and text messages. They have so far only found that he was a customer of an expensive high-end escort service – a weakness he seems to share with men who would typically be at the receiving end of his efforts against market impropriety.

So far, there is no sex-for-favours finding or finding on financial fraud by Spitzer. The family man indeed had had paid sex. Surely, the revelations could badly damage the political career of a man who was considered the epitome of righteousness. Ethicists and moralists would be disappointed that one of the crusaders for high moral standards has fallen by the wayside. Conservative right-wing political opponents whose skin he got under, with his drive to legalize illegal immigrants in New York, would bay for blood for sexual misdemeanor by a family man.

However, Spitzer’s libido cannot take away the contribution he made to keeping markets clean. The rule of law came back to the forefront thanks to Spitzer. We must not forget that the United States is a country where another Democrat politician survived impeachment proceedings despite committing perjury while in the President’s office, to conceal his sexual conduct.

- Somasekhar Sundaresan

No comments: