Good-government groups want the new state ethics commission to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which was disbanded this summer.
Common Cause New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, Reinvent Albany and Citizens Union of the City of New York sent a letter to the new state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government, pushing its members to revisit the decisions that led to the approval of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $5 million book deal and the policies of the former corrupt ethics agency.
Leaders with the organizations wrote and filed a complaint requesting the new commission investigate the state agreement that allowed Cuomo to publish his pandemic memoir "American Crisis: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic" in the fall of 2020.
"The commission should step in to ensure that the public knows fully what happened," advocates wrote.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee's impeachment probe and a separate review by the now-disbanded JCOPE concluded former Gov. Cuomo used state staff and resources to write his latest book.
Cuomo denies any wrongdoing.
“An outside law firm already looked into this and concluded that 'J-JOKE' was provided any and all information needed for its approval and — as the courts have found — later overstepped their authority to settle a political vendetta," Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo's spokesman, said in a statement. "Only on Planet Albany can these dark money-funded self-appointed “good government groups” bring this waste of taxpayer money with a straight face. Give me a break and disclose your donors.”
Those reports show JCOPE did not properly verify the former governor's book contract or enforce the requirements or their agreement.
Good-government groups say that's enough for the new ethics watchdog to investigate and take action, and that New Yorkers need to know the truth about state resources used to publish the book.
"It's not only about the former governor and making sure he is held accountable — it's also about how the commission works and changes its process for the future to prevent these, from this mistake from happening again," said Rachael Fauss, senior policy advisor with Reinvent Albany.
Representatives with the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government did not respond to requests for comment or questions about its intent to review the book deal and JCOPE's processes.
Questions have surrounded the new ethics commission since created by Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers earlier this year. The commission is comprised of 11 people appointed by the governor, legislative leaders, the attorney general and state comptroller.
"It's not created to be independent, and whether or not the individuals can step up to the plate and make it that way... I think that's what time will tell," NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner said Monday.
In September, the new commission voted to follow precedent from the last ethics agency when making decisions, pushing good-government agencies to file a complaint and urge they distance themselves from JCOPE.
Last month, the commission voted to continue any pending cases JCOPE didn't finish.
The freshly appointed members to the commission need to investigate the decision behind Cuomo's latest book and revisit JCOPE's policies to prove it has the teeth to be an effective ethics watchdog, Horner said.
It's the new ethics commission's chance to reverse New York's reputation of poor and corrupt oversight, and tweaking the policy to make that kind of decision is needed for when an official tries to use their position for personal profit in the future.
"They're running in an agency that is flawed — that is structurally flawed — and now it will be up to the individuals to make it work," Horner said. "And we hope they will."
JCOPE lost a lawsuit after attempting to seize Cuomo's profits from the book deal earlier this year. The judge ruled the agency didn't follow procedures to go after the money under the law.
The new state ethics agency could take additional action.
JCOPE made its decision without obtaining the book contract then-Gov. Cuomo signed with the Penguin Random House Crown Publishing Group, Horner says.
"This is a very tough issue," Horner said. "It's about millions of dollars at stake. It's about people violating the law. It's about agency failures ... This new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government — their job is to sanction people that misbehave ethically. And so if that happened here, no mater who did it, that agency should go after it."