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Bill Takes Aim At State Officials’ Book Deals

State Sen. George Borrello isn’t the only state legislator who wants to see limits on elected officials’ profiting from their literary careers.

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, D-New York City, has introduced A.8139 in the state Assembly to amend the state Public Officers’ Law and the state Executive Law to require certain state officials and officers to submit an application for approval by the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) for compensation from advance payments from book deals or contracts.

Niou’s legislation would restrict any statewide elected official or state officer from accepting compensation from an advanced payment from any deal or contract relating to the writing or publishing of a book which would provide compensation in excess of 15% of the state official’s base salary. Additionally, book projects would require unanimous approval from each JCOPE member. Lastly, approved applications for book projects would require an affirmative statement that no public resources or public employees are used on book projects.

It was disclosed in May that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was paid a $3.1 million advance to write his COVID-19 leadership book, “”American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic” while making another $2 million from the book over the next two years. The governor donated $500,000 from the book’s sales to the United Way of New York State and put the rest in a trust for his daughters.

In April, the state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, authorized New York Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the role some of Cuomo’s aides played in “drafting, editing, sale and promotion” of the book.

The state’s ethics commission approved Cuomo’s request to write the book last summer, but only if he followed several conditions, including making sure it was written on his own time and not using state property, personnel or other resources for “activities associated with the book.”

In March, Borrello introduced S.5601 to amend the state Public Officers Law to prohibit elected officials from publishing books about their time in office while they still hold office.

“Despite promising to donate the proceeds to COVID relief, just one-third went to charity. The notion of profiting from a tragedy that took the lives of thousands of New Yorkers is unseemly and an affront to those who lost loved ones to this deadly virus,” Borrello said in May. “As I said back in March when I introduced legislation, S.5601, to prevent elected officials from publishing books about their leadership in office while still holding that office, this isn’t a free speech issue, it’s an anti-corruption issue. Even if no laws were broken, the glaring conflicts of interest involved here demand action. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to take up my legislation before the end of session so we can give New Yorkers the accountability they deserve in their elected leaders.”

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