Ethics Concerns Over Cuomo’s $4 Million Book Payout Punted To Cuomo-Controlled Ethics Agency


Republican State Minority Chief Robert Ortt lodged a second ethics criticism in two weeks towards embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo, within the wake of stories from the New York Instances that Cuomo had secured a $4 million e-book contract for his memoir final summer time, across the identical time his administration was withholding the variety of residents who had died of COVID-19 in nursing houses.

“These newest revelations solid a wholly new gentle on the motives behind the Administration’s deliberate, months-long effort to cover-up the true variety of COVID-related nursing house deaths,” Ortt wrote in a criticism despatched to the state’s Joint Fee on Public Ethics (JCOPE) on Thursday afternoon. He cited potential violations of ethics legal guidelines that prohibit public officers from utilizing state assets for private profit and interesting in monetary transactions that may affect their official duties.

JCOPE is the fee that not solely gave Cuomo the go-ahead to put in writing his mid-pandemic memoir, American Disaster: Management Classes from the COVID-19 Pandemic, however the one tasked with policing potential breaches of state ethics legislation. It’s stacked with Cuomo loyalists, and in response to John Kaehny, the manager director of Reinvent Albany, is “toothless and ineffective,” and lives as much as the moniker of “J-JOKE.” Cuomo’s JCOPE appointees just lately blocked an effort by different members of the fee to subpoena information from the manager chambers.

Ortt had filed an identical criticism final week, following stories that Cuomo had secured precedence testing for household and pals initially of the pandemic final yr, and even had state docs and nurses journey door to door to gather swabs. He urged JCOPE to contemplate each points at its upcoming April ninth assembly, touchdown the difficulty squarely on the ft of an company that’s been extensively criticized for its enforcement efforts.

It was the second criticism within the day filed about Cuomo to an company with restricted impartial oversight skills, partly, as a consequence of Cuomo’s personal affect.

Earlier within the day, the Residents for Accountability and Ethics in Washington filed a criticism with the New York State Board of Elections, arguing the governor had violated native election legal guidelines by utilizing his marketing campaign e mail checklist and social media accounts to advertise his e-book.

However in response to the BOE co-chair Doug Kellner, a Democrat, the 2 roles tasked with investigating complaints—the board’s Chief Enforcement Counsel and Deputy Chief Enforcement Counsel—have been vacant for over a yr, ready for Cuomo himself to nominate somebody.

“The legislation says solely the Chief Enforcement Counsel has the facility to take motion to implement the foundations towards individuals who ignore them,” stated Kellner. “So far as I am involved, that workplace has been a catastrophe.”

On Wednesday, the NY Instances reported that prime Cuomo aides Melissa DeRosa and Stephanie Benton assisted within the modifying course of, and junior aides had been instructed to print copies of the manuscript and ship it to the governor’s mansion. They had been additionally informed to transcribe passages Cuomo had dictated into an iPhone.

Cuomo’s senior adviser Wealthy Azzopardi denied the allegations that taxpayer cash had been used, saying DeRosa and Benton volunteered their time that, “each effort was made to make sure that no state assets had been used.”

The Instances additionally obtained early variations of Cuomo’s memoir during which he spent three pages hucking insults at New York Metropolis Mayor Invoice de Blasio, calling him “annoying and counterproductive” and “one of many worst mayors in fashionable historical past.”

“De Blasio’s standing is someplace between adverse and irrelevant,” Cuomo reportedly wrote, including: “I’ve completed by any goal normal greater than any governor in fashionable historical past. However I’m not a superhero.”

De Blasio clapped again in a less-than-subtle jab. “Tax the wealthy,” he tweeted.

If state staff on the taxpayer’s dime had been directed to work on Cuomo’s memoir, for which he alone benefited, that will be a transparent violation of public officers legislation, ethics consultants say. However that moral quandary is “small potatoes” in comparison with the bigger query of whether or not Cuomo’s reported $4 million greenback payout motivated him to defend the total scope of deaths of nursing house residents from the general public for months, in response to Kaehny, agreeing with Senator Ortt’s evaluation.

Cuomo’s administration withheld the variety of nursing house residents who died in hospitals, reasonably than contained in the services themselves, till January twenty eighth of this yr, the identical day the State Lawyer Common Tish James launched a report on the difficulty, accusing the administration of undercounting the useless.

“You must ask, ‘Who’s the governor working for?’ He’s getting $4 million {dollars} from a e-book writer, versus $200 thousand some {dollars} from his governor’s wage. It makes you marvel whose pursuits he was serving on the time,” Kaehny stated. “It’s a putting abuse of public belief.”

And for months, the fee’s approval technique of Cuomo’s e-book deal had been shrouded in secrecy. Cuomo’s administration has refused to launch the phrases of the moral settlement or the scope of the e-book contract. Cuomo’s workplace has nonetheless declined to verify how a lot Cuomo made out of the e-book, saying that shall be obvious when he recordsdata his taxes later this yr.

“Why couldn’t they’ve come completely clear final July?” Kaehny stated. “The reply is that they comprehend it’s mistaken, they know that this appears to be like horrible,” he stated, including it was an instance of Cuomo “cashing in on his COVID recognition.”

On Wednesday, the identical day the NY Instances revealed their report, Cuomo’s workplace belatedly launched correspondence with JCOPE concerning the memoir to the Instances Union and Buffalo Information, who’d filed Freedom of Data Legislation (FOIL) requests for it seven months earlier.

That correspondence exhibits Govt Chamber legal professional Judith Mogul despatched a letter to JCOPE requesting permission for Cuomo to put in writing a memoir on July tenth, the identical day he talked about his e-book deal for the primary time with Alan Chartock on WAMC. It was 4 days after the discharge of the well being division report that Cuomo’s prime aides had edited to exclude the deaths of three,412 nursing house residents who died in hospitals, in response to the New York Instances.

“Governor Cuomo is searching for to creator a e-book within the very close to future, which shall be a memoir of his skilled and private life since his final e-book, revealed in October 2014,” Mogul’s letter reads. She didn’t embody the quantity Cuomo would obtain from a e-book writer, however requested for an “expedited evaluation” of their request.

Martin Levine, the deputy normal counsel of JCOPE authorised the request himself every week later. The approval got here with sure moral stipulations, together with: “no state property, personnel or different assets are utilized in producing or selling the e-book.”

Levine’s sign-off, which bypassed the JCOPE commissioners, has enraged at the least one in all them, Gary Lavine (not associated to Levine) who known as the transfer “unlawful and unethical” in a telephone name with Gothamist/WNYC.

Walter McClure, a spokesperson for JCOPE, declined to touch upon the specifics of the approval course of however cited steering from 2012 that allowed workers to approve with no vote of the total fee. That didn’t fulfill Lavine, who plans to push the difficulty at an upcoming assembly, the place they might lastly have the votes to override Cuomo’s appointees on the board as a consequence of a latest appointment by State Senate Chief Andrea Stewart Cousins.

“Who’s in cost right here?” Lavine questioned. “The workers or the commissioners?”

Extra reporting by Brigid Bergin

Correspondence about Cuomo’s memoir obtained by the Instances Union:

JCOPE’s response: