Dear Andrew Cuomo, we'll take that book advance back, thanks

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool, File)

We had some early indications that this might be coming back in October, but some of these questions remained in flux. (And still do, really.) After lengthy investigations into former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s many scandals, it was determined by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) that the panel could no longer approve the $5.1 million advance that Cuomo received for his book about leadership during the pandemic. We should note that the book was not intentionally written as a satire.

Removing their approval is not the same as confiscating the money, however. That was to be phase two of the process and it finished up today. JCOPE issued an order for Cuomo to return the full sum he received for the book due to the ethical violations involved in its creation. Cuomo used staffers to do a lot of the work, a choice that was deemed ethically out-of-bounds by the Commission. There are some additions bits of insult added to injury in this order which we’ll get to in a moment, but the state shouldn’t start counting Cuomo’s money just yet. (NY Post)

New York’s ethics watchdog panel ordered disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return the $5.1 million in profits from his pandemic book deal to the state next month.

The extraordinary resolution was approved by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics Tuesday in a 12 to 1 vote — coming a month after the ethics agency voted to revoke its prior approval allowing Cuomo to earn outside income from his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic” while he was still governor and New York was still battling the deadly viral bug.

JCOPE rescinded its approval after concluding that Cuomo violated pledges not to use state resources or government staffers to prepare the book.

One of the first bits of additional irony to point out is that Cuomo is being ordered to return all of the money to state District Attorney Letitia James. Considering that she was the one who launched and published the investigation into Cuomo’s ethical “lapses” in the first place, that’s probably a bitter pill to swallow. She was also previously one of the top contenders to replace him in the job she effectively drove him from until withdrawing from the primary race recently and deciding to run for another term as DA.

Cuomo’s response was rather predictable. His attorney immediately refused to pay up and said that they would see the state in court if they tried to collect.

Cuomo’s lawyer claimed JCOPE’s action was illegal and would challenge it in court.

“JCOPE’s actions today are unconstitutional, exceed its own authority and appear to be driven by political interests rather than the facts and the law,” said Cuomo attorney Jim McGuire.

“Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”

I’m not sure how strong JCOPE’s case is here because we’re getting into some uncharted waters. They definitely had the authority under state law to review Cuomo’s book deal and either approve or reject his request to be able to collect from the publisher. By submitting the request, one could argue that Cuomo has already acknowledged that authority. But can they retract the approval retroactively? I suppose so since the ethical violations didn’t come to light until later.

Taking the money back once it was paid could be another matter, however. The state is saying that James will have to determine whether the cash they collect (assuming they do) will go to “the state or the book publisher, or others.” Any time you’re talking about dumping five million in cash on a group of New York State Democrats, it’s probably a good idea to keep some cameras and microphones live during the aftermath. Giving the money back to the publisher seems wrong since they’re the ones that offered the deal and already collected their share of the sales. But can the state make Cuomo just give up the advance and stick it into New York’s black hole of a budget? And who might the “others” be if James does something else with the funds?

We haven’t heard the last of this circus yet, so stay tuned. Andrew Cuomo may be gone (from office) but he clearly has no intention of being forgotten.