New York state’s ethics watchdog voted Tuesday to revoke its approval of ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal about the coronavirus crisis because state government staffers and resources were improperly used in preparing it.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics approved a resolution 12-1 to rescind its decision allowing Cuomo to write “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” while he was governor and while New York was still battling the pandemic.
The resolution said Cuomo’s submission to JCOPE pledged that no state resources or government staffers would be used to prepare the book, the deal for which Cuomo negotiated while promoting himself near daily in press briefings about the deadly virus.
“Contrary to the representations made on behalf of Gov. Cuomo and not disclosed to the commission, state property, resources and personnel — including staff volunteers — were used in connection with the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book,” states the resolution, read by Commissioner David McNamara, a Senate Republican appointee to JCOPE.
JCOPE commissioners also complained they did not have an opportunity to review or vote on Cuomo’s book proposal. The deal had simply been rubber-stamped by a JCOPE staffer.
Cuomo’s book deal is being investigated by state Attorney General Letitia James, the FBI, the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office and the state Assembly Judiciary Committee. A public official’s use of state resources for personal gain is considered a violation of the state Public Officers Law.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s four new appointees — including chairman Jose Nieves — all voted to cancel JCOPE’s approval of the book deal.
Cuomo now has to reapply for JCOPE’s approval, calling his profits from the book into question. JCOPE can move to claw back some or all of the profits, if it’s not reapproved, JCOPE sources said.
Today’s action is a case of third time’s the charm: Two previous attempts to cancel the book deal did not garner enough support from JCOPE commissioners.
A rep for Cuomo slammed JCOPE’s action as politically motivated and illegal.
“These JCOPE members are acting outside the scope of their authority and are carrying the water of the politicians who appointed them,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Hochul and the legislature’s appointees to take this position, given that these elected officials routinely use their own staff for political and personal assistance on their own time.”
“This is the 3rd time JCOPE has attempted to rescind their own approval, and this amounts to nothing more than Albany political corruption at its worst.”
The Cuomo spokesman insisted that no government resources were used and that staffers volunteering on the book does not constitute a violation.
He added, “the Governor cannot be held responsible for internal decisions over recusals and approvals made by JCOPE. They truly are a J-JOKE.”