City Comptroller John Liu really had no choice. Faced with serious questions about his campaign fund-raising, Mr. Liu backtracked from his position that an inquiry could be handled in-house. Instead, under mounting public criticism, Mr. Liu asked former State Attorney General Robert Abrams to conduct an independent audit of his campaign’s books.
Good move. And good choice. Mr. Abrams, who served as A.G. from 1979 to 1993, has an impeccable reputation and would seem to have no ax to grind.
What remains uncertain, however, is whether Mr. Abrams will have the resources—in terms of a budget and personnel—to conduct a thorough investigation of Mr. Liu’s tangled campaign finances. The comptroller has not yet made it clear how much Mr. Abrams will be paid for his work. Nor has Mr. Liu indicated what sort of staff and other resources will be available to him.
While these uncertainties are somewhat troubling, Mr. Abrams brings a sterling reputation to this investigation. If he is not allowed to conduct a fair, impartial investigation, he will quit. Nothing in his career suggests that Mr. Abrams would be party to a whitewash. While he has been active in local politics as a member of various commissions and as a contributor, he has no known relationship with Mr. Liu.
The former A.G. certainly has his work cut out for him. An investigation by The New York Times several weeks ago indicated that Mr. Liu’s campaign has some serious questions to answer. The Times found similar handwriting on checks purportedly from different individuals, suggesting that one person wrote checks for other people. In addition, bundlers—fund-raisers who collect contributions from multiple sources—were not identified. Even more troubling, the newspaper reported that a businesswoman from Queens who declined to give a donation was asked if she would allow her name to be used on a contribution donated by somebody else.
Mr. Liu’s choice of Mr. Abrams indicates that he realizes the seriousness of the questions about his fund-raising. Perhaps, after nearly two years in office, he finally gets it. Last week, he joined Mayor Bloomberg in announcing a plan to find a common manager for the city’s five pension funds. The proposal could save
$1 billion a year. That’s the kind of innovative policymaking the city needs.
Perhaps the comptroller is getting serious about being a genuine partner in city governance instead of playing the role of a headline-grabber. That would be a welcome development.