Former New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Former New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

ALBANY — The state ethics board on Tuesday rescinded a decision by its staff that allowed then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to write his 2020 memoir about his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 12-1 for a resolution "to revoke staff’s informal advisory opinion."

The decision Tuesday by the ethics panel could lead the board to impose a civil penalty to claw back some or all of the $5.1 million Cuomo was paid for the book.

According to the resolution, Cuomo in several instances violated terms of the 2020 staff approval, including through "material omissions and misrepresentations" in his book entitled, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."

JCOPE Commissoner David McNamara, who was appointed by state Senate Republicans, proposed the resolution.

McNamara said Tuesday Cuomo improperly used state staff and resources to write and edit the book, "contrary to the representations" made by Cuomo's state-paid counsel.

"The approval request letter represented that 'the governor will abide by all nine of the established requirements' for receiving compensation for writing a book and, in particular, represented to the commission that Governor Cuomo 'will write the book entirely on his own time, without the use of state resources or personnel,'" according to JCOPE's resolution.

The request by Cuomo's attorney stated Cuomo was, "'seeking to author a book in the very near future…', when, in fact, the book was completed or substantially completed prior to the issuance of the conditional approval letter," the resolution said.

The resolution also said, "the book submitted on behalf of Governor Cuomo contained material omissions and misrepresentations, and that each of said material omissions and misrepresentations, individually, constitutes a ground for revocation."

Shortly after the book made The New York Times bestseller list, Cuomo was accused by state legislators and relatives of nursing home residents of undercounting deaths of residents due to COVID-19.

The state Assembly Judiciary Committee is investigating that issue.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said JCOPE members were, "acting outside the scope of their authority and are carrying the water of the politicians who appointed them."

Azzopardi continued: "It is the height of hypocrisy for [Gov. Kathy] Hochul and the legislature's appointees to take this position, given that these elected officials routinely use their own staff for political and personal assistance on their own time."

James McGuire, an attorney for Cuomo, said the former governor will go to court to challenge JCOPE's decision.

"Today’s action by JCOPE — following two prior failed attempts — is transparently political on its face," McGuire said. "We look forward to vigorously contesting in court any efforts JCOPE makes to enforce this baseless and improper decision."

JCOPE members have argued in two previous attempts to rescind the authorization to Cuomo that the full board, not JCOPE staffers, must approve requests by officials to engage in outside activities for additional income.

In 2020, many of the JCOPE staff and commissioners were former Cuomo staffers and appointees.

Cuomo aides since have said some former members of Cuomo’s senior staff helped him edit the book, although they did so on their own time.

That issue is under investigation by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and James.

On Oct. 25, a coalition of good-government groups urged JCOPE in a letter to draw up a clear standard prohibiting even "incidental" use of public state resources to provide state officials with outside income.

"It should also be made clear that no public resources should be used for a public official’s private enrichment. None," the New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, Citizens Action and Reinvent Albany wrote.

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