Oops. Ethics board rescinds approval for Cuomo book deal

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

I wasn’t aware this was something that could be done retroactively, but apparently, New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) seems to think it’s allowable. When a public official in New York negotiates a deal for something where they would realize a profit based on work they’ve done on the taxpayer’s dime, JCOPE has to look it over and give their approval. Andrew Cuomo’s book deal for his (formerly) best-selling book about leadership during the pandemic fell under that category so the commission investigated the $5.1 million payday he would be receiving and gave it the green light. But now, well after the book hit the markets and eventually dropped off the best-seller list, JCOPE has rescinded their approval and wants Cuomo to apply again. (Politico)

A New York state ethics board on Tuesday revoked the approval it gave former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to publish his 2020 memoir, a move the Democrat dismissed as “the height of hypocrisy.”

The revocation by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will require Cuomo to reapply for authorization. If his application is denied, the board — known by the acronym JCOPE — could attempt to force the former governor to surrender the $5.1 million he was paid for authoring “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

The vote on Tuesday passed with relatively minimal discussion, 12-1. William Fisher, who was appointed to the commission by Cuomo, voted against it.

This is definitely a strange situation that’s unfolding in Albany. I understand the intent and operation of the law in question and don’t have any problem with it. If you are using your elected position that is paid for by the taxpayers to turn a profit in the private sector, that raises immediate questions of ethics. But JCOPE went through the process when Cuomo was first finalizing the book deal and they gave their approval. Despite all of the other ugliness that had unfolded since then and his mounting legal woes, how is the book deal no longer ethical today when it was deemed to be so last year?

To provide an explanation, JCOPE is offering two parallel descriptions of how the process played out. The first is a complaint from some of the commission members that the original authorization was approved based on the reports of some staffers, not the full commission itself. That doesn’t hold any water as far as I’m concerned because nobody held a gun to their head and forced them to approve it. If they needed more time to investigate, they could have told the Governor he would have to wait a little longer.

The second argument might be a bit more persuasive. The commission is pointing to reports that emerged after the book was published indicating that Cuomo used the work of staffers from his office in the completion of the book and its subsequent submission to the publishers. These accusations were serious because they suggested that Cuomo was using additional taxpayer-funded resources to complete the work on a project that was not of any value to the taxpayers and only served to line his own pocket.

For his part, Cuomo isn’t helping his own case here. His response to these actions was to say that the new Governor and many other elected officials “routinely use their own staff for political and personal assistance.” That’s not much of a defense, since all he’s really saying is that everyone else is violating the rules so I should be allowed to violate them also. Further, neither he nor his spokesperson is citing any specific examples of Governor Kathy Hochul or anyone else using their staff in that fashion.

If Cuomo is forced to give back the $5.1 million he received as an advance on the book he’s going to be one angry person, based on what we know about his personality from years past. And that might bring us one step close to the Democrats’ 2022 “nightmare scenario.” A “nuts” Andrew Cuomo “on a vendetta.”

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