ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Members of New York’s ethics commission voted overwhelmingly to rescind approval of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal Tuesday. The committee’s vote comes over a year after the October 2020 publication of “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which largely recounts the governor’s once-daily press conferences last spring.
The former governor, who resigned in August amid findings he sexually harassed at least 11 women, also faces scrutiny over the book deal from state Attorney General Letitia James, federal prosecutors, and the state Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, which is expected to soon release findings from a wide-ranging investigation of Cuomo’s alleged abuses of power.
The staff of the New York ethics commission granted approval of Cuomo’s deal in July 2020, when his special counsel Judith Mogul told the commission that Cuomo agreed to not use any state personnel or resources to produce his book and that he would write it “entirely on his own time.”
But ethics commission members voted 12-1 Tuesday to rescind approval because of Mogul’s “material omissions and misrepresentations” about Cuomo’s book deal. Republican Commissioner David McNamara said state property, resources, and personnel were used to prepare, write, edit and publish the book “contrary to the representations” made on Cuomo’s behalf.
Cuomo has acknowledged that state employees helped with tasks including editing the manuscript. But he’s claimed that those employees were “volunteering.”
Former aide Charlotte Bennett provided the attorney general’s office with evidence showing she was asked to help with printing and delivering portions of Cuomo’s book during work hours, her attorney Debra Katz told The Associated Press this year. Bennett separately testified Cuomo sexually harassed her.
“There’s a tremendous email record of using people’s private email to ask for assistance with copying, editing, doing what you do to write a book,” Katz said.
Cuomo’s spokesperson Richard Azzopardi called the commission’s vote politically motivated and said elected officials often use staff for political and personal assistance. Tuesday’s vote means Cuomo will have to apply again for approval for his book deal.
Walt McClure, a spokesperson for the ethics commission, said he couldn’t answer several questions from the AP, including how much time Cuomo has been given to seek a new approval, or exactly how the commission could make Cuomo repay book proceeds.
Cuomo could face a fine, since violating the state’s public officers law can result in up to $10,000 in penalties and the value of any “compensation or benefit received as a result of such violation.” Cuomo netted $1.5 million on the book last year, donated $500,000 to the United Way of New York State, and put the rest into a trust for his three daughters. The book sold at least 48,900 hard copies through November 6, according to NPD Book Scan, which tracks most booksellers.
John Kaehny, executive director of watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said the public could expect a potential yearlong legal battle if the commission fines Cuomo or asks the court to order him to repay the book publisher. Kaehny expects Cuomo will argue the commission’s reversal violated due process rights.
“This was a crisp and clear political message sent by Hochul and the legislative leaders, Democrats and Republicans, to Cuomo which is: ‘Don’t come back, we don’t want you,’” Kaehny said, referring to commissioners appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders.
Attorney Jim McGuire, who’s representing Cuomo over allegations surrounding the book deal, said Cuomo will fight in court to prevent the ethics commission from enforcing its decision. He pointed to the commission’s two previous failed votes to rescind approval for the book deal.
Ethics commissioners on Tuesday also said they, rather than commission staff, should have reviewed Mogul’s letter and voted on Cuomo’s book deal. Azzopardi said Cuomo doesn’t control how the ethics commission approves requests. Commissioners now approve outside income requests, under an April resolution.
Kaehny said commissioners for too long delegated responsibility for such decisions to staff. “The irony of this whole thing is that Cuomo—who created JCOPE and who created the very political structure so it’s controlled by the governor—is now using all the flaws he built into JCOPE as a defense for his actions,” Kaehny said, using the acronym for the ethics commission’s formal name.