New York's supposed government watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, this week formally rescinded the approval its own staff had given former Gov. Andrew Cuomo to write a book about how he dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
While this book deal and JCOPE's approval and subsequent rescinding of that approval are largely focused on the legality of the governor's staff "helping" him with the book, we see a much bigger concern in the fact that New York's laws essentially give elected officials leeway to launch personal projects that could enable them to profit off their elected work while still in office — and that screams conflict of interest. A simple start could be an outright ban on paid outside work that has any connection to the elected office the person holds.
In this case, Cuomo made more than $5 million on a book that he tried to spin as unrelated to his work as governor, even though that's exactly what the book is about.
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Cuomo had years to revamp JCOPE — or replace it altogether with a truly independent agency — but he chose not to. And while JCOPE remains an ineffective tool to fight corruption, problems like this one shouldn't be allowed to appear in the first place.
Gov. Kathy Hochul began her work in office with a pledge to overhaul ethics policies in New York. We urge her and the state Legislature to do just that by getting to work on stronger ethics laws regarding outside income.
It is truly outrageous that Cuomo or any statewide elected official can legally make millions of dollars while still in office on projects related to their work. The state Legislature needs to look at a strong law that prevents this atrocity from ever happening again.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.