Ethics agency acted like patsies in approving Cuomo’s $5 million book deal

The outgoing Joint Public Ethics Commission acted as the disgraced ex-governor. Andrew Cuomo patsies in approving his controversial $5 million pandemic book deal without even a basic review of its terms, a searing investigative report released Thursday revealed.

Instead, JCOPE officials allowed Cuomo and his team to dictate the terms of what information he would release and when regarding the book deal when he sought agency approval. ethics.

“One of the clear lessons from our analysis of the July 10 JCOPE approval [2020 book] claim is that the Executive Chamber has overpowered JCOPE, and JCOPE has failed to assert itself as an oversight agency against the Governor,” the findings of law firm Hogan Lovells found.

“Rather than JCOPE telling the Executive Chamber what information it needed to provide to gain approval, the Executive Chamber told JCOPE what information the Governor would provide, which wasn’t much.”

The belated investigative report, commissioned recently by JCOPE commissioners, said, “The Executive Chamber also successfully compelled JCOPE to expedite approval and rush through the process with very minimal due diligence.”

The report recommended that the new Ethics Commission in Lobbying and Government handle things differently and put in place a more rigorous review process to make it “more difficult for elected officials across the state to Quickly move questionable or ethically problematic requests through the approval process.”

For example, commissioners should be required to approve any outside activity such as a for-profit book from a statewide office holder. JCOPE’s commissioners have delegated authority to its senior staff.

The new ethics agency should also create a list of information and documents that must be provided as part of all outside activity requests, including an “outside activity form” which would indicate the hours spent. in the preparation of the book.

JCOPE has never collected such information from Cuomo.

The 36-page report provides a brutal ticking of the period July 10-17, 2020 when Cuomo sought and received approval for JCOPE’s book deal, which would be titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID- 19 Pandemic”. ”

Much of it centers on emails involving Cuomo’s attorney, Judith Mogul and JCOPE co-executive director Martin Levine as well as then-president Michael Rozan.

“Governor Cuomo treated the JCOPE approval process as an afterthought, and that he or his staff communicated to his literary agent that the JCOPE approval process was essentially a formality that would be completed quickly so as not to affect the publisher,” the report said.

Andrew Cuomo received a $3.1 million advance to write his book, American Crisis, with his publishing deal securing him an additional $2 million.

Cuomo’s attorney’s initial JCOPE endorsement request “mischaracterised” the subject of the book by “failing to disclose that it would focus on Governor Cuomo’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic” and by claiming that it would only be a continuation of the previous book he wrote.

But by the time Cuomo sought JCOPE’s endorsement, the majority of the book had already been written and it focused primarily on his official duties and New York’s response to the pandemic, according to the report.

At one point Linda Lacewell, then superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services – a longtime Cuomo aide known as his enforcer – was connected to a call with Levine to try to convince him to “relinquish his request for a publishing contract. .”

JCOPE never received the contract before giving its signature, although some commissioners, in particular George Weissman, requested it.

Andrew Cuomo
Cuomo writing the profitable book while developing COVID-19 policies for New York was a conflict of interest, according to the investigative report.
Matthew McDermott

In an email exchange, Commissioner James Yates questioned why approval of the book deal needed to be done “on an urgent basis”.

As part of an agreement with Cuomo, JCOPE President Rozen and Levine were given additional information about the book deal — including the hefty severance — as long as they kept it a secret from the rest of the commissioners.

The report concluded that JCOPE “failed to consider potential ethical issues arising from Governor Cuomo’s concurrent writing and marketing of a book about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic…the book was ultimately a day-to-day account of the governor’s handling of the pandemic response. ”

Writing the book posed a potential conflict of interest because Cuomo was still leading the state’s response to the pandemic and developing real-time policies that could be used to generate content for the book.

“There was a substantial possibility that he would use state resources to complete the Book so that it could be released in the fall,” the report said.

The use of state resources — which is supposedly prohibited — was one of nine factors under state law that JCOPE was supposed to consider in determining whether it approved the book deal.

But JCOPE staffers acted like gullible Cuomo fools instead of watchdogs, agreeing to the governor’s request in any case “without further investigation,” the report said.

Andrew Cuomo
New Yorkers gathered outside Cuomo’s Manhattan office to protest his policies in March 2021, smearing paint on a poster of the former governor’s book.
James Messerschmidt

The report said it “tests credulity” that Cuomo could write a book about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – and publish it a few months later in the fall – “without receiving a substantial help from others in this effort”.

“Had JCOPE been awarded the contract before approving the Book, JCOPE would have learned that: Governor Cuomo was required to deliver a manuscript of approximately 80,000 words just seven days after the July 10 Request, which means that Governor had to make substantial progress on the Book. before even seeking pre-approval from JCOPE,” the probe concluded.

The book focused on the state’s response to COVID-19, making it much more likely that Cuomo staffers and state personnel were used to help prepare for it given the ” impending deadline” with the publisher.

The $5 million compensation for the book created a “significant financial incentive” for Cuomo that “may not be aligned with his official responsibilities,” investigators said.

Linda Lacewell
Linda Lacewell, then superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, tried to convince JCOPE President Martin Levine to “drop his request for a publishing contract”.

Cuomo was charged with obstruction and nursing home deaths related to COVID-19 because it did not fit the book’s account of his strong response to the pandemic, which sparked federal and state investigations.

“It is entirely plausible that JCOPE staff would not have approved the July 10 request if they had all of this information,” the report said.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi dismissed the JCOPE “dinosaur” mercenaries’ report.

At the height of the pandemic, more than 9,000 recovering COVID-19 patients in New York state were released from hospitals to nursing homes under Cuomo’s order.

“As we have said throughout, on the advice of an attorney, all staff who volunteered for the book worked on their own time – and as finally acknowledged today, we provided all the information JCOPE needed for approval,” Azzopardi said.

“There’s poetry in the fact that this weak stunt – authored by the very law firm representing JJOKE in our lawsuit – is the latest act of this incompetent, one-sided dinosaur of a bureaucracy.”

Last November, JCOPE revoked its endorsement of Cuomo’s book deal and demanded the ex-governor cough up the proceeds after finding he violated ethics rules. Cuomo sued JCOPE, claiming its cancellation and subsequent action to punish him were unconstitutional and Hogan Lovells, the firm that investigated the book deal, is representing the ethics agency in the case.

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