Did Eliot Spitzer Lie to the Media This Week?

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Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis

How much were Eliot Spitzer's (very successful) army of signature-gatherers paid? It's a surprisingly difficult figure to pin down. A Craiglist ad seeking recruits for the effort were offered $12 an hour on Monday, but on Wednesday, the Daily News reported, "Spitzer is paying canvassers as much as $800 each per day in a frantic scramble for signatures to enter the Democratic primary for city controller, insiders confirmed."

Later that night, however, Spitzer told Gawker that the reports of his canvassers being paid $800 per day were wrong:

His other tactics include paying for petitioners solicited through Craigslist. We spotted at least four ads there seeking registered Democrats for a Thursday deadline. Spitzer denied reports that he was paying canvassers up to $800 a day.

“No, we’re paying based on an hourly rate. It varies. It’s here and there. Some are volunteers,” he said.

But the Daily News' report was soon corroborated by some of the petition mongers themselves — anonymously, as they were apparently made to sign nondisclosure agreements. On Gothamist today, a college student writes that the man who hired him "quietly confirmed the $800/day rate" and that he was told to "wait for an email with instructions for getting my $1,600." Another of Spitzer's clipboard-wielders hesitantly told a City & State reporter, "When you hear [the $800 per day payments] reported as the truth, it tends to be the truth. That’s all I’m gonna say." 

Lifestyle editor Lindsay Powers Eichmann struck up a conversation with one of Spitzer's signature-seekers on Wednesday night outside a subway stop in Brooklyn. "I asked him if it was true they're paying $800 a day like the reports have said," she tells Daily Intelligencer. "And the guy said something like, 'That's what they told us — unless they're dicking us around!' And we both laughed out loud." Good times. 

To be sure, not all of Spitzer's petitioners were paid $800 per day; in the aforementioned Gawker piece, one unlucky woman says she was receiving a mere $12 per hour, as advertised on Craigslist. And Spitzer did say that the rate varies ("It's here and there."). But he also flatly denied the $800 rumor. 

Asked to explain the discrepancy between the canvassers' accounts and Spitzer's denial, campaign spokesperson Lisa Linden told us, "I have no information about how much people were paid."

It doesn't even necessarily matter what Spitzer chose to pay his canvassers. Their salaries are not dictated by law. And Spitzer was in a hell of a time crunch, so offering such huge sums may have been a smart and necessary strategy.

But there is kind of a problem with telling the media — and, consequently, the public — something that isn't true. Trust is a particular concern with someone like Spitzer, who, after all, cheated on his wife and broke the law by soliciting prostitutes while serving as governor. "Trust is the issue, I agree with you," Spitzer said on CNBC this week, admitting as much. 

Why would Spitzer lie about something as seemingly inconsequential as what he pays his canvassers? Perhaps to downplay the fact that he's using his own personal fortune to fund his campaign, something his opponent Scott Stringer has tried to make an issue out of. "He’s trying to buy this election with personal wealth,” Stringer said on Tuesday

It's also certainly possible that Spitzer simply left the details of the effort to his aides and was out of the loop on how much his own canvassers were receiving, leading him to accidentally deny reports that turned out to be clearly accurate. If that's the case, his campaign should acknowledge as much. The last thing Spitzer needs is more questions about his honesty.