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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best of 2011, number 6: Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Posted By on 12.14.11 at 03:07 PM

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Throughout December, Ben Sachs and I will take turns writing about our ten favorite films that had their Chicago premieres this year.

More than one Republican senator blocking the nomination of Richard Cordray for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency has claimed that the real problem is not Cordray, a respected former attorney general of Ohio, but the sweeping powers granted to him under the Dodd-Frank law that established the agency. The Republicans want the directorship replaced with a five-person committee and the agency's budget directly controlled by Congress. In a typical GOP statement, Louisiana senator David Vitter told the Los Angeles Times something had to be done to limit the new agency's “unbridled, unprecedented authority.” Of course, this is a load of crap: what Vitter and company want is to emasculate the agency at the behest of their high-rolling campaign donors in the financial system.

Speaking of emasculation, one of the year's best documentaries was Alex Gibney's Client-9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, which went beyond the screaming headlines of the prostitution scandal that brought down the New York governor in March 2008—it speculated that the FBI investigation targeting him might have been helped along by his enemies on Wall Street. As New York attorney general, Spitzer went after white-collar crime with a vengeance, investigating securities fraud and questioning the legality of excessive CEO compensation. Gibney, a veteran investigative filmmaker (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), never comes up with a smoking gun, but the portrait of Spitzer created by his various enemies—of a mad dog drunk with power and abusing his office—will sound pretty familiar to anyone following the consumer protection agency debate. Spitzer comes across as a tragic figure, a man of great promise and high ideals who brought himself down, though the governor at least had the decency to resign immediately once the sex scandal broke, rather than try to bull his way through it like such Republican politicians as John Ensign, Mark Sanford, and, uh, David Vitter.

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