John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Spitzer targets bigger problem than AIG bonuses

The real issue with AIG, according to New York’s former governor and attorney general Elliot Spitzer, is not the bonuses that have stirred such a hue and cry from politicians throughout the land.

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You remember Elliot Spitzer, don’t you? Left the governor’s office in disgrace last year and went home to recover from a zipper problem.

Spitzer popped up again last week in the online publication Slate where he penned an article, “The Real AIG Scandal.”

Which is not, according to Spitzer, the AIG bonuses.

The bonuses involved many millions, but, Spitzer tells us, payments to AIG’s counterparties involved tens of billions.

When the decision was made last year to bail AIG out, Spitzer says, the powers feared a “systemic failure could be triggered by AIG’s inability to pay the counterparties to all the sophisticated instruments AIG had sold.”

And who were those counterparties? Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, UBS, JPMorgan Chase — the same people who received billions in the first round of TARP money. So when AIG got its bailout, it paid back those same counterparties 100 percent of the amounts owed each on its contracts — what we might called double dipping.

“Why did Goldman have to get back 100 cents on the dollar?” Spitzer asks. “Didn’t we already give Goldman a $25 billion capital infusion … ?”

Whatever, it’s nice to have Spitzer back in the conversation. He had a distinguished legal career that included prosecuting New York’s Gambino family as a member of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. As NY Attorney General from 1998 to to 2006 he prosecuted white collar crime, securities fraud, internet fraud, price fixing, predatory lending practices by mortgage lendors and fraud at — you guessed it — AIG.

 Then he fell victim to that other problem that seems especially pervasive among politicians and from which we wish him a full and complete recovery.