Report: state ethics panel ‘failed’ on Cuomo book

FILE - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his...
FILE - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation on Aug. 10, 2021, in New York.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Published: Jul. 8, 2022 at 11:48 AM EDT
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ALBANY, New York (WWNY) - They didn’t do their job.

And he didn’t want them to.

An independent investigation into how the state’s ethics commission handled then-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to write a book at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic finds plenty of blame to go around.

Cuomo, of course, is no longer governor, forced out in August of last year by allegations of sexual harassment.

And the Joint Commission On Public Ethics, or JCOPE, widely derided as a weak and toothless ‘watchdog,’ is now out of business as well. Its last official act was to release the report on Cuomo’s book.

Cuomo got a $5.1 million advance to write a book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic.

On July 10 of 2020, with much of the book already written, Cuomo sought permission from JCOPE to work on it.

It was granted a week later, on July 17.

“The Executive Chamber overpowered JCOPE, and JCOPE failed to assert itself as a watchdog agency against the Governor,” according to the independent report from the law firm Hogan Lovells, which was hired to evaluate how JCOPE handled Cuomo’s request.

“Rather than JCOPE telling the Executive Chamber what information it needed to provide in order to obtain approval, the Executive Chamber told JCOPE what information the Governor would provide, which was not much,” according to the report.

“The Executive Chamber also successfully coerced JCOPE into expediting the approval and rushing through the process with very minimal due diligence.”

The report found that Cuomo deceived JCOPE and withheld information:

- Cuomo “mischaracterized the Book as a continuation of the Governor’s prior memoir,” rather than the pandemic-focused book he produced.

- Cuomo refused to provide a copy of his book contract, “which should have been a red flag.”

- “Writing and publishing a book between the summer and fall of 2020 would necessarily involve the use of state resources and personnel, as the Governor could not feasibly write a book about COVID-19 within that timeframe without involving his staff or other individuals,” the report notes.

According to the report, JCOPE failed:

- “to ask for more information from Governor Cuomo about the Book, including to what extent it would be focused on COVID-19, the deadline for the manuscript, how long the manuscript had to be, and whether his staff would assist in any way in writing the book.”

- to “insist that Governor Cuomo fill out the required form for outside activity requests or to otherwise require the Governor to provide all of the information required in the form, including the number of hours he expected to work on the book and an explanation of why it did not present a conflict with his official responsibilities.”

“In sum, JCOPE staff failed to identify the potential ethical quandary,” the law firm’s report concludes.

Rich Azzopardi, who is Cuomo’s spokesman, called the report a “feeble stunt.”

““As we said all along, on advice of counsel all staff who volunteered on the book worked on their own time — and as finally acknowledged today, we provided any and all information that JCOPE required for approval,” Azzopardi said in a statement.

“There is some poetry to the fact that this feeble stunt - authored by the very law firm that is representing JJOKE  in our lawsuit - is the last act from this incompetent biased, score settling dinosaur of a bureaucracy.”

In November of last year, JCOPE revoked its approval and is attempting to claw back the $5.1 million Cuomo received. Cuomo has gone to court to block the effort.

JCOPE is now disbanding, to be replaced by a new state ethics panel.

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