New York state lawmakers are calling for a measure that would explicitly outlaw the use of government workers by public officials for private gain amid allegations former Gov. Andrew Cuomo used state resources to help him write a $5.1 million memoir about the pandemic.
The measure, introduced by Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, comes after an Assembly investigation found Cuomo used substantial government resources, including staffers in his own office, to help him write the book "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."
“No government employee should be ‘volun-told’ to do work outside their official duties that personally enriches their superior,” Kaminsky said. “The Attorney General’s report made clear that it was time to revisit and strengthen the ethics law to explicitly prohibit this exploitation of staff and taxpayer money. This bill does exactly that and I will continue to fight those who would abuse their office and power for personal gain.”
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the state government's primary ethics enforcement agency, has rescinded staff approval of the former governor's book, released in 2020. The commission this week also moved to have Cuomo return the money he has received for the book, but whether it has the power to do so was questiond by Attorney General Letitia James' office.
A Cuomo attorney has also called the effort to claw back the money illegal, and would result in a legal challenge if officials move to force the ex-governor to return the money.
Cuomo has defended the use of taxpayer-funded aides to help him write the memoir, comparing it to the use of staffers by state lawmakers who work on political campaigns during their days off or on vacation time. Unnamed staffers told Assembly investigators, however, they worked on Cuomo's book project during office hours, were led to believe it was not voluntary, and said the effort sidetracked them from responding to COVID-19-related issues.
“Any public official who uses taxpayer-funded staff to pad their personal bank account is misusing state resources and abusing their official power,” Wallace said. “This legislation makes clear that no elected official can coerce staff to work on non-government matters during government time, when they should be doing government work.”
The circumstances surrounding Cuomo's book deal is now the subject of two investigations, one by the state attorney general and another by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.