Stringer calls for a spending limit, and Spitzer says he’ll spend whatever

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Stringer near City Hall Park. (Reid Pillifant)
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Scott Stringer continued his criticism of Eliot Spitzer's self-funding comptroller campaign this afternoon, asking the former governor to agree not to outspend him.

"To ignore the campaign finance program and to think you can fool the people of this city, and buy the office of comptroller the same way you bought yourself onto the ballot is just not right," Stringer said at an afternoon news conference, after sending a formal letter to Spitzer, requesting he agree to a $4 million spending limit, in keeping with Stringer's requirements under the city's matching funds program.

Spitzer, who declared his candidacy last Sunday night, has said he won't be participating in the city's public financing system, which had a June deadline to apply for matching funds. 

Stringer has made Spitzer's nonparticipation the theme of his early engagement with the former governor, but suggested he'd rather be talking about other issues.

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"This is an election that's gonna discuss how we run as well as what issues we care about," said Stringer. "And ultimately we want to be able to have a campaign that focuses on issues." 

For now, though, Stringer is talking mostly about Spitzer's money.

"I think if you look at his record in running campaigns, his record of self-financing was unfortunately a borderline scandal, when he ran in '94 and '98," Stringer said of Spitzer's two attorney general campaigns, which drew heavily--and perhaps illegally--on the fortune built by his father's real estate business. "He used his vast sums of money. You know, he kind of manipulated his own finances and his family's finances to funnel money into his own campaign, and that's well documented." 

Earlier, Stringer had alluded to Spitzer's spending, saying, "he's back to the Eliot we know, financing his campaign by riding solo and dipping into his vast personal fortune. Being committed to principle only when it's convenient is hypocrisy, plain and simple."

Spitzer called Stringer's complaints "petulant" last week, and he added in a television interview this morning that self-funding his campaign made him less beholden to "special interests" than Stringer, who is participating in the city's public matching funds program.

"He was a special interest vacuum cleaner when he was fundraising in Albany, all the while championing campaign finance reform," Stringer said, when asked by a reporter about Spitzer's response. "So he said when he was governor, 'We have to have campaign finance reform, but give me those corporate donations, those big donations, $10-, $20,000 thousand dollar donations. This hypocrisy is not right. We all have to play by the same rules. The people who run for office can't say one thing and do another."

(It's a criticism that's also been leveled against the current governor, Andrew Cuomo, in recent days, after he reported raising large sums of cash during a legislative session in which he pushed for campaign finance reforms.)

Spitzer, who hasn't made an on-the-ground campaign appearance since he delivered his petitions on Thursday night, responded in a statement that didn't agree to Stringer's proposal.

"I support campaign finance, but have not been able to spend years raising money from the special interests, which will then be matched by campaign finance," the statement said. "Last weekend, I made a decision to enter the race to provide voters with a choice. I have said that I will spend sufficient funds to inform the public about where I stand on the issues facing the City and all New Yorkers at this crucial time."

A few hours after Stringer's press conference, a new Quinnipiac poll showed Spitzer leading the race 48-33.