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Ethics board orders Cuomo to turn over $5M from his book deal

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference on gun violence at Lenox Road Baptist Church in Brooklyn, on July 10. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

ALBANY — The state’s ethics board on Tuesday voted to require former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to turn over the $5.1 million he received to write his 2020 memoir.

The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics said Cuomo didn’t receive the necessary approval before writing the book and then didn’t abide by requirements that he not use state employees or resources in writing and editing it.

JCOPE referred collection of the money to state Attorney General Letitia James. Under JCOPE’s action, Cuomo must turn the book fee over to the state within 30 days.

Cuomo has insisted that he secured staff approval for the book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," and that his top aides helped edit the book only on their own personal time, not on state-paid time.

"JCOPE’s actions today are unconstitutional, exceed its own authority and appear to be driven by political interests rather than the facts and the law," said Cuomo attorney Jim McGuire shortly after JCOPE’s decision. "Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court."

Cuomo received $3.1 million from the book deal in 2020 and more than $2 million more in 2021 and 2022. Cuomo said that, after he paid expenses, he would receive only about $1.5 million. He said he donated $500,000 to the United Way and put $1 million in a trust for his daughters.

In November, the full JCOPE board rescinded the staff approval that Cuomo had received in 2020, stating that the governor improperly used state resources to edit the book.

That vote in November came after a report by the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, which investigated several allegations against Cuomo, including whether he used staff to work on his memoir. The book briefly made best-sellers lists in 2020 when Cuomo was a popular national figure in the fight against the pandemic.

Cuomo resigned Aug. 24 to avoid a likely impeachment trial after James released a report Aug. 3 concluding he sexually harassed multiple women — including some on his staff.

The Assembly committee concluded on Nov. 22 that: "The former governor utilized state resources and property, including work by Executive Chamber staff, to write, publish and promote his book."

"The evidence obtained demonstrates that senior officials, and the former governor, worked on the book during the course of normal work routines," the Assembly committee’s report stated. "Junior members of the Executive Chamber worked on the book and that work was not voluntary … Certain senior members of the former governor’s Executive Chamber and other senior New York state officials worked extensively on the book."

On Tuesday during the JCOPE meeting, Commissioner David McNamara said, "Governor Cuomo lacked legal authority to engage in outside activity … Governor Cuomo is not entitled to receive compensation paid to him in any form."

McNamara is an attorney who was appointed to JCOPE by former Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan of East Northport.

The vote was 12-1 to support the action, with Commissioner William Fisher, a Cuomo appointee, casting the sole dissenting vote.

Commissioners took the unusual step of requiring an immediate public vote after the issue was debated behind closed doors in executive session. Commissioners said the quick vote was needed so that commissioners couldn’t leave the meeting before the vote.

Under JCOPE’s rules, eight votes of the 14-member board are needed to pass a motion. The governor and lieutenant governor have six appointments to JCOPE; the rest are appointed by legislative leaders. Gov. Kathy Hochul has already replaced one Cuomo appointee.

In September, JCOPE voted 7-6 to revoke the staff approval given to Cuomo to write his book. However, because not all members were in attendance, the measure didn’t pass because the motion didn’t get eight votes. A vote to rescind the staff approval for Cuomo to write the book was approved in JCOPE’s November meeting.

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