Republicans in the New York state Legislature on Wednesday called for a curb on profiting from book deals for elected officials in New York, days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office disclosed his deal to pen a memoir about the pandemic was worth $5.1 million.
"We can't have statewide elected officials writing books about their experience while it's still happening," said Sen. George Borrello.
The proposed bill comes as Cuomo continues to face controversies surrounding the publishing of the book, "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic," and multiple investigations surrounding the use of government aides to help him write it.
Cuomo's 2020 income tax returns made public this week show he received a payment of more than $3 million. After taxes, Cuomo donated $500,000 of the money to the United Way and put $1 million into a trust for his three daughters.
Cuomo's top advisors have also said they were volunteering their time to help him fact check the details of the book, which provides a behind-the-scenes account of his response last year to the pandemic. The book was released last year as Cuomo was facing growing questions over the state's reporting of the deaths of nursing home residents during the pandemic.
"We need to understand did this book deal influence the withholding and the manipulation of data when it came to our nursing home deaths?" Borrello said.
Cuomo's office in a statement derided the proposed measure in a statement.
"Self-serving nakedly political press stunts are nothing new for these Republican politicians," said Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo's senior advisor and his communications director.
Still, the book has been added to the growing list of controversies facing the governor this year. It has been added to the impeachment investigation now underway in the state Assembly, while Comptroller Tom DiNapoli request Attorney General Letitia James also review the circumstances of government aides being used to help write it.
At the same time, the overall book contract drew attention, far outpacing the previous $780,000 Cuomo reported earning for a book released in 2014.
"I think this just magnified the issue," Byrne said. "The issue probably always existed, but that certainly magnifies it."
Spectrum News has confirmed at least two lawmakers, Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Ron Kim, have spoken with federal investigators in recent days surrounding the inquiry into the Cuomo's administration's nursing home fatality reporting. Cuomo's outside counsel representing him in the investigations is being paid for by taxpayers — a practice Common Cause's Susan Lerner says should end.
"It's not necessarily a conflict," Lerner said. "We just think there's a better practice and the better practice would be to set up a legal defense fund and to set it up separate from campaign or taxpayer money."