Report: Andrew Cuomo staffer worked on campaign matters during office hours

Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

How many more ways can New York Governor Andrew Cuomo find to get in trouble at this point? Apparently, the well hasn’t completely run dry yet because his hometown newspaper, the Albany Times-Union has managed to dig up yet another problematic issue… maybe. A search of emails from Cuomo’s office obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) revealed that, in 2019, one of Cuomo’s top aides was working on developing a poll being conducted by a Super PAC that supports Cuomo called Jobs for New York. The work was done during normal office hours while the Governor was out of town. The aide, Melissa DeRosa, also assigned at least one task to another staff member in the office related to the development of the poll. Doing campaign tasks while ostensibly working on the taxpayer’s dime is a violation of state campaign finance laws. But as we’ll see in a moment, Cuomo might have a line of defense against this allegation.

The Times Union obtained emails showing that in 2019, Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, did work related to campaign polling in the early morning and stretching into the afternoon of a Tuesday. She also instructed lower-level staff to perform a task related to the poll.

On August 13, 2019, DeRosa spent time suggesting edits to a poll being conducted by the firm Global Strategy Group. While Cuomo’s campaign is a client of that polling firm, the poll in this instance was being conducted on behalf of Jobs of New York, a so-called “super PAC” funded by billionaire New York City landlords.

Still, DeRosa – and Cuomo himself – were allowed to review and edit the poll being conducted by Jobs for New York.

First of all, we should offer some props to the Times-Union for doing some solid, old-school reporting work here. They had to pry loose all of the emails from Cuomo’s staff via FOIL requests and then dig through them to determine who was talking to who before uncovering the work on this poll. That takes some perseverance.

As to the allegation that Cuomo was using his aides to do campaign work, his spokesperson offered a rebuttal. Their claim is that such polling work is allowed to “coordinate and actively work with outside entities on policy issues, messaging, and to gauge public sentiment.” The spokesman went on to point out that Cuomo was not on the ballot in 2019 so he was not actively campaigning.

At first glance, you might be able to buy that excuse because the legislature had passed a significant number of progressive bills that year, most of which Cuomo signed. If all he was doing was “gauging public sentiment on policy issues,” it might be hard to build a case against him. But the poll was doing more than that. One of the specific poll questions that DeRosa was fine-tuning wasn’t asking about any specific legislation, but the response to the Democrats who supported the bills. The question asked if respondents felt that their senator was “too far to the left” and whether or not they would support a primary challenge against them. That’s not policy analysis. That’s politicking.

The other use of office resources came when the aide asked another staffer to make a copy of the polling documents to send to Cuomo for his review. Those probably seem like very minor matters, but New York campaign finance laws are clear about a ban on the use of office resources and personnel for campaign activities during working hours.

In the midst of multiple investigations into sexual harassment claims and the nursing home death toll scandal, it’s probably hard to get very worked up about a story like this. But it’s still one more allegation of misconduct to toss onto the pile as state legislators wait for the results of the District Attorney’s investigation and decide whether or not to impeach the Governor. One thing we can safely predict, however, is that if Andrew Cuomo has refused to resign over all the rest of his baggage, he certainly won’t call it quits over this.