N.Y. Gubernatorial Opponent Questions Spitzer in Race Built on Ethics

John Faso asked the state lobbying commission on Thursday to investigate Democrat Eliot Spitzer's use of a private jet from a campaign contributor who is part of a group bidding for the state's lucrative thoroughbred racing franchise.

Although Spitzer's gubernatorial campaign paid for use of the jet provided by Richard Fields, Faso contends the reimbursement came up short.

"Mr. Spitzer has basically accepted and not reported a donation of as much as $38,000 from somebody who is currently lobbying to allow an out-of-state Indian tribe to build more casinos in New York," said Faso, the Republican candidate for governor. "This is the perfect example of how Eliot Spitzer holds others to higher standards than he holds himself."

"The plane was offered, we accepted and reimbursed for first-class equivalency according to federal standards," said Spitzer campaign spokeswoman Christine Anderson. "There is no question of a return (of a contribution), as we paid for use of the jet."

Besides representing Indian gambling interests, Fields is part of Excelsior Racing Associates, one of several groups with leading industry and New York business operators seeking the state franchise to operate racing at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga race tracks. The franchise held by the New York Racing Association since the 1950s expires Dec. 31, 2007.

On July 30, the New York Daily News reported that Fields held a July 18 fundraiser for Spitzer at his Jackson Hole, Wyo., home and his companies contributed $200,000. The Times Union of Albany reported use of the jet on Tuesday.

"Eliot's record is one of independence from special interests," Anderson said. "His record clearly shows that he makes decisions irrespective of any outside influence, including campaign contributions."

Fields' support of Spitzer isn't related to the racing effort, said Fields' spokesman Howard Wolfson, who is also an adviser to the state Democratic Party and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Richard supports Eliot Spitzer for governor for the same reason a majority of New Yorkers do: he is going to be the next great governor of this state," Wolfson said. "We are 100 percent confident that this is a decision that will be made on the merits and we want it to be made on the merits because we've got the best bid."

Spitzer has a 60 percentage point lead over rival Tom Suozzi in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary and leads Faso by more than 50 percentage points.

Spitzer has a large lead in campaign funds and is attracting donations from many sources, including other bidders on the racing franchise. He has returned donations from people and groups that are targets of his investigations in his current role as attorney general. Spitzer has also pledged to end Albany's notorious pay to play practice in which lobbyists and their campaign contributions can greatly influence action or contribute to stopping proposed legislation or regulation.