New York’s ethics committee should investigate whether the former governor was a good government group. Andrew Cuomo allegedly broke the law when he accepted free assistance from former aides to defend him from sexual harassment claims.
New York’s ethics law prohibits public officials from accepting gifts and services in excess of $15 from lobbyists or companies doing business with the state.
Violators could face up to $25,000 in fines or even criminal charges.
Cuomo turned to a group of former advisers, who offered strategic advice and public relations support when his first accusers came forward.
Many of these ex-aides were employed by companies that lobby the government or had state contracts.
New York’s gift ban does not apply to friends or family. Cuomo’s lawyer, Jim McGuire, stated that seeking out advice from long-standing allies in times of crisis is not a violation of the law.
McGuire stated that every politician and elected official has a kitchen cabinet that they can rely upon. It’s called “having friends.”
Blair Horner, Executive Director of New York Public Interest Research Group, stated that ethics officials should investigate.
Horner stated that Horner was against Horner’s suggestion that the governor receive free professional consultation in this capacity, and that he is an elected official. They are giving the governor free professional advice, which is not what they normally charge.
A spokesperson for New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (which enforces the state rule) declined to comment.
Cuomo resigned on August 7th, just days after the report by the state’s Attorney General concluded that he had sexually harassed 11 females.
The report was prepared by investigators who interviewed former Cuomo aides. They were not paid for their assistance.
These included three ex-Cuomo aides Rich Bamberger and Josh Vlasto, who were working for Kivvitt at the time. The firm has received $26million in state contracts and regularly lobbyes lawmakers and the governor.
They provided services such as helping Cuomo’s media team to develop a media strategy, interfacing with reporters, and disseminating documents that could undermine Lindsay Boylan’s public accusation.
Vlasto and Moran said that Cuomo offered to pay them as the scandal escalated. Vlasto said he declined. Moran stated that Kivvitt declined because the firm does not work “on either side of victims.”
Moran testified that the governor tried to negotiate with him and pay Kivvit $100,000 per month. He wanted Josh to work full-time. I told him no. I told him we’d volunteer. “I didn’t mean it.”
Moran also spoke out about the difficulties of refusing to say no to a governor who was known for demanding long hours and harboring grudges against those he considered disloyal.
Moran, who managed Cuomo’s 2018 campaign, said, “The Cuomo family members, like they feel an obligation, when I don’t think they should.”
“It’s difficult to say no to him. Are you worried that you are destroying a relationship that has been going on for decades? Sure. Are you worried that he will not make it through the whole thing? Sure.”
Moran stated, “If you’re going say no to him,” “you have to look him dead in his eyes.” Your voice must not be strained. Moran stated that if you offer him an opportunity to charm, move, cajole, persuade or influence you, he will.
Tom Meara, spokesperson for Kivitt, stated that “it is well documented” that the firm refused to work on such issues and that former employees weren’t acting on the firm’s behalf.
Vlasto and Bamberger declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Moran did not respond to emails and phone messages. All have since left Kivvit.
Dani Lever (Facebook communications manager) was another former aide who assisted Cuomo in responding to the allegations. She told the attorney general’s investigators that she had also helped Cuomo during her “personal time”.
Facebook and Lever, who lobby New York officials, did not respond to a request for comment.
Experts in ethics said that it didn’t matter whether employees were acting on their own time outside of the company. They remain subject to the prohibition on gifts.
David Grandeau, New York’s former top ethics regulator, stated that lobbyists are prohibited from giving their professional services for free. The laws are clear. Problem is with those who enforce and interpret them.
Since 2017, New York’s Ethics Commission has issued $136,000 in penalties to companies that violated the gift ban. Nearly all of the penalties were for companies that donated money to a nonprofit organization to support Bill De Blasio’s policy agenda, a long-time Cuomo opponent.
John Kaehny, Reinvent Albany Executive Director, doesn’t expect any action from the ethics committee. Many Democratic lawmakers and critics want to see it reform.
Kaehny stated that JCOPE is currently so mired in controversy, its own problems and likely to be replaced that they are not holding their breath. “They broke the law, and likely nothing will happen.”