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New York ethics agency votes to claw back Cuomo's book profits

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New York Now photo illustration
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Credit for background image: Cuomo's Flickr account
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted to compel former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return profits he made from his book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."

A state ethics agency approved a motion Tuesday that’s intended to require former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to return any profits he earned from the production and sale of his pandemic-memoir to the New York Attorney General’s Office for further distribution.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted nearly unanimously to approve the motion, which attorneys for Cuomo have already sought to challenge.

“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 Jim McGuire, an attorney for the former governor. “Should they seek to enforce this action, we’ll see them in court.”

The motion was prompted after it was revealed earlier this year that Cuomo had received approval to produce and sell his book from staffers at the ethics agency, without input from the commission’s members.

As part of that approval, staffers said that Cuomo would not be allowed to use state resources or personnel to work on the book.

But earlier this year, new claims emerged that alleged staffers in the Cuomo administration had been recruited to help with the book during regular work hours, and weren’t given a choice. Top aides have said they worked on the book in a voluntary capacity.

The claims were deemed credible in a report released last month by the State Assembly, which had been investigating Cuomo in preparation for a potential impeachment before his resignation in August.

“Our investigation evidences that the Book was the product of significant work performed by Executive Chamber staff during a time of a global pandemic requiring an around-the-clock response,” the report said.

The report came after JCOPE voted last month to rescind the original ethics opinion that had allowed Cuomo to proceed with the book last year. At the time, it was unclear what that meant for the former governor’s profits.

But JCOPE, on Tuesday, followed through on that action, and approved a motion to claw back Cuomo’s book profits via the New York Attorney General’s Office, which will decide whether those funds will be returned to the book’s publisher, or retained by the state.

"It is hereby ordered that ... Governor Cuomo pay ... an amount equal to the compensation paid to him for his outside activities related to the book,” the motion read, in part.

Cuomo’s book deal was valued at $5.1 million, a number he did not disclose publicly until his tax returns were made available to reporters behind closed doors in May.

But, at the time, Cuomo had only been paid a net profit of $1.5 million for the book, with another $1.4 million paid in taxes. He had donated $500,000 of the proceeds to United Way of New York State, and left the rest in a trust for his daughters.

He was due to receive another $2 million as part of the deal, but the status of that payment is unclear.

Cuomo’s handling of the book deal was one of several controversies that surrounded the embattled former governor before he resigned in early August, largely due to a number of allegations of sexual harassment made against him in the preceding months.

Cuomo has denied the claims of sexual harassment, and any wrongdoing related to the book.

Dan Clark is managing editor of New York NOW.