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Cuomo ‘overpowered’ New York ethics board for $5.1m book deal, report says

Cuomo ‘overpowered’ New York ethics board for $5.1m book deal, report says
Former New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

The former New York governor misled a state ethics agency to secure approval for a controversial 2020 memoir he wrote about his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by a law firm hired to investigate the circumstances surrounding its approval.

The book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, was published in the fall of 2020, after Andrew Cuomo secured a $5.1-million contract to write it several months earlier. 

Cuomo sought approval from the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, known as JCOPE, to write the book in July of 2020. However, the report said that senior Cuomo administration officials treated the ethics commission’s required approval as a minor formality and that the governor only sought permission after he had already written 70,000 words of what was expected to be an 80,000 word book. Cuomo’s publisher was Penguin Random House, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi called the report a “feeble stunt” and said the Cuomo administration provided “any and all information that JCOPE required for approval”.

The report published on Thursday also found that Cuomo misrepresented the substance of the book he planned to write, in his request to JCOPE for approval. Instead of describing the book as a memoir focused on the state’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuomo “mischaracterised the book as a continuation of the governor’s prior memoir”, the investigation found. 

Cuomo’s staff “exerted pressure on JCOPE to expedite the approval of the request,” the report found, and refused to provide ethics commissioners with a copy of the governor’s book contract. The request was ultimately approved, without a full vote of the Commission.

The report also laid blame on the ethics commission for failing “to assert itself as a watchdog agency against the governor”.

Cuomo’s decision to write a book about his handling of the pandemic while the pandemic was still ongoing “created financial incentives – or, at a minimum, the appearance of such incentives – for the governor to tailor his policies and actions to generate material for his book and/or to secure a lucrative publishing contract,” the investigation found. 

The report also found the production of the book likely used state government resources. 

“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 time frame without involving his staff or other individuals,” the report found, noting that the “factual record is rife with instances where Governor Cuomo met with his staff, including those involved in managing and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, to work on his book.”

After Cuomo resigned in August 2021 following allegations of sexual harassment, JCOPE commissioners voted to undo the body’s approval of the book deal, and attempted to claw back the $5.1 million in payment Cuomo received for publishing it. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing and filed a legal challenge in April to the commission’s efforts to claw back payment he received for the book’s publication. BM

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