Good-government advocates praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s latest ethics proposal that would finally limit how much an elected official can collect in big advances for writing books about themselves. One problem: It doesn’t cover Cuomo, who alone has been criticized for doing just that.
In his State of the State speech last week, Cuomo proposed to restrict the outside income of legislators to 15 percent of his or her salary in law, which is currently $79,500 for the part-time job. Cuomo identifies outside income as wages, investment benefits, and other sources of income including “royalties from the sale of [a] book,” according to his proposed legislation.
Cuomo’s measure would be enforced by a fine up to $50,000 and would be a Class A misdemeanor, which could carry a sentence of up to a year in jail.
In 2014, Cuomo revealed in his required state ethics disclosure reports that he would receive at least $700,000 for his political memoir “All Things Concerned: Setbacks and Successes in Politics and Life.” The publisher HarperCollins is an imprint of News Corp.-owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch’s media holdings include the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Fox News channel, all of which cover Cuomo.
“There is a disconnect in the governor’s office,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It is illogical for a provision that affects the Legislature -- that could also affect the executive -- wouldn’t cover both.”
In New York, governors aren’t allowed outside incomes, but book advances and royalties are allowed. Cuomo has said he sought and obtained approval for his book deal from the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a board he created and which is headed by his former appointees with appointees from legislative leaders.
“All members of the executive chamber, including the governor, must obtain JCOPE approval before engaging in any outside activity for payment greater than $1,000,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. “Legislators and legislative employees are not subject to any pre-approvals or screening on their activities.”
The book had sold about 3,000 copies and 13 audiobooks as of April 2015, according to The Washington Post.
Overall, Horner and other good-government advocates on Wednesday supported Cuomo’s ethics measures aimed at limiting the outside income of legislators and ending a loophole that allows companies to exceed the corporate limit on campaign contributions by giving through subsidiaries.
Cuomo has put those and other ethics proposals in his 2016-17 budget proposal, which gives him more leverage in law to enact his policy priorities. Under a legal power discovered by former Gov. David Paterson, a governor can impose policies he places in his budget if the Legislature doesn’t agree to a budget before the April 1 fiscal deadline.
“It gives him tremendous leverage,” Horner said. “The governor has offered a package of high profile, extensive, historic changes that if enacted could make a big difference . . . This is a legacy issue for him.”