In the summer of 2020, staff at the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”)—an ethics board that has jurisdiction over state officers and employees—approved then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5 million deal to write American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic. (Then-Gov. Cuomo asked JCOPE for permission to earn outside income from the book.)
Since then, both former Gov. Cuomo and JCOPE have come under fire over the book contract. Former Gov. Cuomo remains under investigation for having used state staffers to help with the writing of the book. (The former governor argues, unpersuasively, that his staffers were volunteering their time to work on the project.) JCOPE has drawn scrutiny for having approved the contract at the staff level without holding a vote on the matter, and for related procedural irregularities.
In recent weeks, there have been two new developments regarding this issue. First, on October 5, JCOPE voted to hire a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into its own staff’s decision on the book deal. Second, at an October 19 meeting, JCOPE voted on the question of whether to rescind its approval of the book deal. While JCOPE voted 7-2 in favor of rescinding the approval, the vote did not pass because several commissioners departed the meeting before the vote was held; thus, the motion failed by one vote. At this time, it is not clear whether some commissioners left the meeting before the vote simply because of the meeting’s length (five hours) or whether those commissioners left early on purpose to sabotage the vote.
Recently, various people and groups have called for JCOPE to be disbanded and replaced with another ethics body. JCOPE’s bungling of the October 19 vote does nothing to restore the public’s confidence in its work.