Editorial: Spence credibility buried in avalanche of TARP explanations

2012-04-05T00:15:00Z 2012-07-27T17:27:43Z Editorial: Spence credibility buried in avalanche of TARP explanationsBy the Editorial Board stltoday.com
April 05, 2012 12:15 am  • 

It's rare that a boneheaded decision gets a politician into trouble. It's usually the cockamamie explanation that does it.

As Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence tries to escape a nimbus cloud of contradictions over his actions as a board member of Reliance Bancshares Inc., he should take that lesson to heart. Otherwise he'll struggle to get out of the GOP primary against Kansas City lawyer Bill Randles, let alone have a chance against Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in the November election.

Mr. Spence, a wealthy St. Louis businessman, should have learned that lesson before he ever entered the race. After all, he pushed aside his friend, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, when Mr. Kinder stumbled over contradictory explanations for spending taxpayer dollars on personal stays in St. Louis luxury hotels and his relationship with a former stripper.

Voters tend to forgive mistakes. But they won't put up with a thick fog of contrived answers that obscure the truth.

Here are the facts related to Mr. Spence's role on that bank board, as laid out in an Associated Press story by reporter David Lieb:

• Mr. Spence joined the bank's primary board after it asked for and received $40 million from the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

• To help the bank improve its capital position, Mr. Spence invested heavily in the bank. Other board members didn't ante up to the same level.

• Mr. Spence and the rest of the board voted in early 2011 not to repay the $40 million in TARP money to the federal government. This was after the bank voted in 2009 and 2010 to approve loans, in approximately the same amount, to bank board members and executives. Mr. Spence received some of these loans, one for a vacation house at Lake of the Ozarks.

Considering the national controversy over the TARP bailout and the GOP's obsession in bashing it, Mr. Spence should have been prepared to answer questions regarding his role in it when he entered the governor's race.

He wasn't. First, he said he resigned from the board over the TARP issue, even though federal documents indicated otherwise. Then he said he couldn't remember how he voted. Bank boards take a lot of votes, Mr. Spence said.

Then he told Mr. Lieb the truth, that he voted against paying back the taxpayers. This occurred after he built a political campaign by criticizing the same government help that saved the bank he served.

Mr. Spence wants us to believe he and his fellow board members were scrupulously careful in following the rules when loaning each other money but didn't really pay attention enough to remember stiffing taxpayers of their $40 million.

Not only do Mr. Spence's answers lack the ring of truth — as did his previous explanation for confusing his college home economics degree with an economics degree — but they also perfectly illustrate the country's overwhelming struggle with income inequality and privilege for the wealthy.

The "haves" have rigged the system to their benefit. They take government money, use if for themselves, sometimes refuse to pay it back and then criticize the poor and elderly for their "entitlement" culture.

No wonder he "forgot."

At least Mr. Kinder's ultimate explanation for ending up in a Southside dive bar fawning over an-ex stripper had a certain panache. He claims he simply was looking for a bathroom and decided to have a glass of wine.

In retrospect, that almost sounds believable.

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