Borrello Backs Cuomo Book Approval Reversal
State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, was on the front lines of those calling for an end to book deals for the state’s elected officials.
Borrello was quick to voice approval of this week’s decision by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to to revoke its July 2020 approval of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal. The 12-1 vote of the resolution rescinding the approval cited several of Cuomo’s misrepresentations in his request for approval, including the subject matter of the book, the use of state resources and staff, and the financial terms of the deal.
“As numerous investigations into Andrew Cuomo’s corrupt practices continue, the decision by JCOPE to revoke its earlier approval of the former Governor’s lucrative book deal is a step towards righting their past mistakes and bringing accountability to one of Cuomo’s many ethical abuses,” Borrello said. “Many aspects of the book deal demand further investigation, including the role the deal may have played in encouraging the coverup of accurate data on the number of COVID-19 deaths in state nursing homes. The truth would have undercut the Governor’s COVID ‘hero’ narrative, which was the central theme of the book. I, along with Aging Committee Ranking Member Senator Sue Serino, pushed for the committee to subpoena the former Health Commissioner to get answers on the data coverup and any possible connection to the book deal. While they rejected our request, our call for an investigation on this issue stands.”
According to the Associated Press, Republican Commissioner David McNamara said state property, resources and personnel were used to prepare, write, edit and publish the book “contrary to the representations” made on Cuomo’s behalf. Cuomo has acknowledged that state employees helped with tasks including editing the manuscript, but says those employees were volunteering their time.
Former aide Charlotte Bennett provided the attorney general’s office with evidence showing she was asked to help with printing and delivering portions of Cuomo’s book during work hours, her attorney Debra Katz told The Associated Press this year. Bennett separately testified Cuomo sexually harassed her.
Cuomo’s spokesperson Richard Azzopardi called the commission’s vote politically motivated, and said elected officials often use staff for political and personal assistance.
Cuomo could face a fine, since violating the state’s public officers law can result in up to $10,000 in penalties and the value of any “compensation or benefit received as a result of such violation.” Cuomo netted $1.5 million on the book last year, and donated $500,000 to the United Way of New York State and put the rest into a trust for his three daughters.
John Kaehny, executive director of watchdog group Reinvent Albany, said the public could expect a potential yearlong legal battle if the commission fines Cuomo or asks the court to order him to repay the book publisher.
Attorney Jim McGuire, who’s representing Cuomo over allegations surrounding the book deal, said Cuomo will fight in court to prevent the ethics commission from enforcing its decision.
Everything that happened during this week’s JCOPE meeting provides even more reason for the state Legislature to pass S.5601, legislation the Sunset Bay Republican introduced in March to amend the state Public Officers Law to prohibit elected officials from publishing books about their time in office while they still hold office.
“Cuomo exploited ethical loopholes surrounding the publishing and promotion of his book and then brazenly ignored even the most basic requirements, such as not using state staff or resources in its writing or editing,” Borrello said. “The glaring conflicts of interest in this case should be addressed by prohibiting elected officials from engaging in these types of deals. Period. As this book deal remains the subject of investigations by the state attorney general and federal authorities, I am confident that more revelations will be forthcoming, which will add to the urgency to make permanent changes in our ethics law. The type of corruption that tainted state government under Andrew Cuomo must not happen again.”