ALBANY, New York (WWNY) — They didn’t do their job.
And he didn’t want them to.
An independent investigation into how the state Ethics Commission handled then-Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to write a book during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic finds plenty to blame.
Cuomo, of course, is no longer governor, being forced out in August last year over sexual harassment allegations.
And the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, widely derided as a weak and toothless “watchdog,” is now also bankrupt. His last official act was to release the report on Cuomo’s book.
Cuomo got a $5.1 million advance to write a book, America’s Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
On July 10, 2020, with much of the book already written, Cuomo requested permission from JCOPE to work on it.
It was granted a week later, on July 17.
“The Executive Chamber has overpowered JCOPE, and JCOPE has failed to assert itself as an oversight agency against the Governor,” according to the independent report by law firm Hogan Lovells, which was hired to assess how JCOPE has processed Cuomo’s request.
“Rather than JCOPE telling the Executive Chamber what information it needed to provide to obtain approval, the Executive Chamber told JCOPE what information the Governor would provide, which was not much,” according to the report.
“The Executive Chamber was also successful in forcing JCOPE to fast-track approval and rush through the process with very minimal due diligence.”
The report revealed that Cuomo deceived JCOPE and withheld information:
— Cuomo “misinterpreted the book as a continuation of the Governor’s earlier memoir,” rather than the pandemic-focused book he produced.
— Cuomo refused to provide a copy of his book contract, “which should have been a red flag.”
– “Writing and publishing a book between summer and fall 2020 would necessarily involve the use of state resources and personnel, as the governor could not write a book on COVID-19 in that time frame without involving its staff or others,” the report noted.
According to the report, JCOPE failed:
– “to request more information from Governor Cuomo about the Book, including how focused it would be on COVID-19, the deadline for the manuscript, the length of the manuscript, and whether his staff would assist in any way or by writing the book.
– “to insist that Governor Cuomo complete the form required for outside activity requests or otherwise require the Governor to provide all of the information required in the form, including the number of hours he expected to work on the book and an explanation of why it did not conflict with his official responsibilities.
“In sum, JCOPE staff failed to identify the potential ethical dilemma,” the law firm’s report concludes.
Rich Azzopardi, who is Cuomo’s spokesman, called the report a “weak blow.”
“”As we have said throughout, on the advice of an attorney, all of the staff who volunteered for the book worked on their own time – and as finally acknowledged today, we have provided all the information JCOPE needed for approval,” Azzopardi said in a statement.
“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.”
In November last year, JCOPE revoked its approval and is trying to recoup the $5.1 million received by Cuomo. Cuomo went to court to block the effort.
JCOPE is disbanding, to be replaced by a new state ethics committee.
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