Chris’s scandal may be more embarrassing, but Andrew’s latest problem may be more expensive.
In July 2020, then-New York Governor Cuomo, riding high in the public eye, asked the state ethics panel for permission to write a book about his leadership during the pandemic.
I must interject here that such books are virtually always unethical, often in multiple ways. I say “virtually” because there really may be some instance, buried deeply in the sands of time, when a book written while a popular elected official (or a First Lady) was in office and published with that official’s name as the author was really written by the official in his or her spare time, wasn’t just a government-funded campaign and propaganda tool, and also didn’t provide a way for supporters both individual and corporate to launder contributions. Maybe, but I doubt it.
For one thing, if an elected official spends any time at all writing a book during his or her work day, he or she is getting paid by taxpayers to do work that primarily benefits the official. Books are hard. Books take time. Trust me on this, I’ve co-written one, and would have five more (I have the titles and outlines!) out there if I could get out of my own way. But my time is my own: I don’t bill clients for writing this blog, and any time I spend writing a book is time I don’t get paid for. Governors, like Presidents, are paid to be on-duty every waking hour.
In Cuomo’s case, a staff member at the ethics commission reviewed the request and issued an authorization; no vote was taken. In other words, the book was rubber-stamped. Why? It was rubber-stamped because Cuomo was powerful in the state, has the instincts and ethics alarms of a Mafia Don, is infamously ruthless, the public thinks such books are hunky-dory because they don’t understand what they represent, and it wasn’t worth the risks to tick off the Governor.
In considering this, it is vital to realize that ethics commissions, ethics committees and ethics advisors related to the government, any government, are driven by politics at least as often as ethics and probably more depending on the body. This is New York. Res ipsa loquitur.
So was Cuomo’s book unethical? Of course it was. It was definitely more unethical in one respect than most such books: it was a big lie, indeed part of a cover-up. The book was a way for Cuomo to cash in on the national fame he acquired when New York became Wuhan Virus Central, but he had to do it quickly, because the Iceman Cometh: Cuomo’s policy of stashing sick seniors in nursing homes had killed thousands, and the bill would soon come due, as indeed it did.
What became a 320-page memoir was written exactly when Cuomo’s aides rewrote a key report from the state Health Department to hide the nursing home carnage. Now a State Assembly investigation is looking at whether there was any link between his administration’s undercounting of nursing home deaths and the whitewashing executed by Cumo’s book.
Andrew Cuomo is a pariah now you see, thanks to the same sexual harassment scandal that has derailed, one hopes forever, brother “Fredo’s” career. His power is gone, so the members of the ethics commission woke up one day shocked—shocked!—that Cuomo had promised them his book would be as pure as the driven snow, when in fact it was a money-making political prop like every other similar book. SHOCKED!
While governor, Cuomo refused for months to reveal how much he had been paid by Crown Books, his publisher. Then in May of this year,his financial disclosures showed Cuomo would earn more than $5 million from the book, which is titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic.” He received $3.12 million last year from Crown and netted about $1.5 million after taxes. Cuomo donated $500,000 to charity, which is a standard ploy in the Politician Book Scam Manual. Looks good, keeps the metaphorical bloodhounds off the trail.
But you have to stay in power!
Now that Cuomo can’t hurt them, The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is accusing Cuomo of essentially obtaining its approval approval under false pretenses, like promising not to use state resources toward completion of the memoir. (As I said already, state resources are always used to write such books, and every member of the commission knew it when they gave Cuomo the green light.) “Contrary to the representations made on behalf of Governor Cuomo and not disclosed to the commission, state property, resources and personnel, including staff volunteers, were used in connection with the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book,” stated a resolution approved by a 12-to-1 vote.
The commission was also suddenly sensitive to the fact that Cuomo’s request for the ethics commission’s approval came after the book was substantially finished, and that the full financial details of the deal and contract were not revealed at the time of the initial approval. Hilarious: whose fault was that? How hard was it to say, “Governor, we can’t possibly approve this book until we see the contract”?
Ooh, but that might have made Cuomo mad, and none of the members wanted to wake up with a horse’s head in their beds.
In a statement, Cuomo called the decision as “the height of hypocrisy” and “a political game.” He’s right about that.
Post Script: The book is a bomb, and Crown has canceled any promotion and any plans for a paperback version.
17 thoughts on “Ethics And Those Wacky Cuomo Boys, 2: Andrew And His Book”
The next step, I think, is for prosecutors to bring criminal charges against him for this policy that killed so many senior citizens. I know the left fantasizes about Trump going to jail, but I’d love to see Cuomo go first. Who knows, when and if things flip back in 2024 maybe the Feds can go after him too. Cuomo is everything the left accuses the right of being except the racism: an authoritarian, a power abuser, a self-dealer, a panderer to his base only, and a bully, not to mention a sexual predator just as bad if not worse than Trump, although he wasn’t dumb enough to be recorded boasting about grabbing a woman by her genitals. I’d love nothing better than to see him fall as far as is possible in this world, before he takes a one-way trip to a very hot destination in the next one.
A class action suit from nursing home patients’ relatives would be lovely. More info now to debunk any claim of his actions being covered under some sort of immunity as a public official fulfilling his duties.
If Governors and Presidents are on duty every waking hour, were the vacations the Obamas/Trumps took or the golf games or any of that dereliction of duty, or at least unethical wastes of time for a President? Is a President/Governor afforded no leisure time or activities assuming that everything is running well? If a leader is allowed to go to the golf course or run a five K, or read a book for fun (rather than a treatise on technology when planning a hacking crackdown initiative for example) , then it seems to me that, if there is nothing pressing enough to prohibit those activities, a person could write a book during the time they would be performing their leisure activities and be on the up and up. Now selling a book during that time, unless it were self published, I see as a different matter as that now has to work on schedules not your own and this could be taking from the time you should be devoting to other tasks.
However, my idea here hinges on the idea that a President, Governor, or similar is allotted leisure time to do activities they find relaxing. If the activities we see our Presidents etc doing are unethical wastes of time then writing a book rather than reading one is no distinction.
A further note is that I don’t think Cuomo is the type of guy who sits down and writes for fun, so this is no defense of him, but more a theoretical exercise in why this is unethical.
Am I missing something in my thought process as described above?
The President may be on “vacation,” but he is still President, still working, still fulfilling his Constitutional duties. If he were not, then the VP would become President while the President was frolicking. The same is true of governors. A President on vacation is still being briefed daily. If there is any crisis or emergency, he has to deal with it, vacation or not. The same is true of governors.
That’s what you are missing.
Secretary of Transportation, on the other hand, that’s where the vacations get real!
Now, now. That was different. The TransSec was on paternity leave.
I’m a very strong promoter of one week of unpaid paternity leave. (Two would be nice, but only if you AND the job can afford it.) That does not mean you can’t play Dad and take Zoom calls and read reports on undelegated or undelegatable work functions at the same time, just that you should a)delegate what you can, and b) be mostly present in the mother (especially) and child’s life at this important stage. Given that most Zoom calls are shorter than a run to the nearest Walmart for a bottle of stain remover, there’s some practicality that needs to go into this.
Pete has WAY overshot what I am speaking about, even if his partner had actually given birth to said children.
I still am missing something and that’s not it. I don’t have a problem with the concept of having to work on vacation. That is what engineers have to do. They are on call 24-7-365 and have to drop everything for a problem no matter if they are at work, on vacation, sleeping, at a funeral, at their kid’s function. Engineers also have to check and write emails and reports as well as attend Zoom/phone meetings on the 24-7-365 schedule. I don’t see the problem with a President/Governor having to do the same. In fact, I would be disappointed to think that the private sector is more harsh on employees then the leader of our states and nation. (I am in fact disappointed in Congress which seems to have very little of a work day, week, and year.) Instead my problem is with the concept of leisure time and how it is spent. You state that a President/Governor cannot write during their on-duty time, and then state that they are on duty all the time. This seems to state that they have no leisure time as a function of their job. In that case, reading a novel, shooting hoops or targets, or going skiing would be as bad or worse than writing a book, true or otherwise.
Thus, I am struggling with your statements that seem to say that a President/Governor has to work all the time and cannot spend time on what, for some (including an author I enjoy), is a leisure activity. We have seen our Presidents and Governors go golfing, camping, visiting family, etc. Is it simply that recent Presidents have dismissed their duties by unethically taking breaks? Or again, am I missing something?
I don’t think Sarah B. missed that all. Being on duty 24/7 is not the same as performing some official task 24/7.
If you consider only the process of writing, then certainly writing while President or Governor is okay and likely a good thing, and that seems to be her view.
If the process of writing was unethical due to misuse of government facilities or employees, or if it detracted from official duties, that’s an entirely different matter, as she noted.
If you see the result of the writing as something unethical, then you might conclude as well that the time spent writing was unethical, regardless of what the process was. This would be a reverse, or an obverse, (or something) of the end justifies the means – the means being tainted by the end result. That might be true in specific cases, but I think it is a false generalization to then state that any time spent by an elected official writing a book is wrong or a misuse of tax dollars.
But its’ not like playing a game of Parcheesi, HJ, or going to the bathroom. We’re talking about potentially hundreds of hours of thinking, note taking , proofing, editing and writing. That’s why professional writers are so often full time writers. Professors write books, and getting published is one of the things universities pay them to do. I didn’t say that the fact that he was governor was the major reason writing a book is unethical, but it’s one among many reasons.
Well, this sure sounds like spending any amount of time on a book is unethical.
“For one thing, if an elected official spends any time at all writing a book during his or her work day, he or she is getting paid by taxpayers to do work that primarily benefits the official.”
“Governors, like Presidents, are paid to be on-duty every waking hour.”
Unless, that is, ‘on-duty’ and ‘work day’ are not the same thing.
We don’t know how much time Cuomo actually devoted to this and whether it impacted his official duties, what with staff, ghost writers, and a politician’s prodigious ability to spew words. But, yes he seems to have been fundamentally unethical in how he went about it, and that is the real problem.
Spending any amount of time on a book when you are expected/trusted/ paid to be doing something other than writing a book IS unethical.
As to expectations and trust, whose expectations, whose trust? The book was announced in mid August 2020. It came out in October 2020, and that month, per a Spectrum News/Ipsos poll (I know, polls!) Cuomo’s job approval rating among NY State adults was 65 per cent. A month later, he still had 59 per cent approval, per a Siena poll, and he maintained a favorable rating into 2021. The numbers collapsed later this year, not because he spent time on a book, but because of the assault and harassment allegations and because of the use of government employees and facilities for work on the book. The large advance from Brown likely contributed to that drop as well.
As to ‘paid to be doing’, a solid argument could be made that leaders should record and share their experiences and lessons learned in a crisis, so the writing of a book is not objectionable; again, the way it was done, and the money, make it an ethics fail.
Everyone seems to be missing the big point. These books just never seem to make money. Hunter Biden’s $2 million book deal only sold 10,000 copies. If these books don’t make money, why do the publishers continue to pay politicians big money to write books that won’t sell? Now you see the big ethics problem. These books are a way to legally bribe officials. Even if the $3+ million payment from the publisher isn’t an outright bribe, you can always have your company buy 100,000 copies so the royalties go to the politician. If you are really shameless, you can order a state agency to purchase your self-published books (Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh).
The Bidens made so much money on their books that they had to set up S-corporations to skirt over $500,000 in payroll taxes they would have owed (this might have kept Catherine Pugh out of jail). That is a lot of money. Do you know anyone with one of their books? They were making over $6 million/year from the book sales. The year before they started getting the book money, the Bidens made $300,000.
I do have a theoretical example of when such books would be ethical. If you were a governor or president and you liked to consolidate your ideas about your policies into short books (profit free) that you would publish so the public could read them and see what you planned on doing and why, I would find that ethical. Now, you might wonder why any leader would need to do that. They would need to do that because they were denied unfiltered, uncensored access to the public by the information gatekeepers in society. If Twitter, Facebook, and internet service providers blocked them, if the media refused to let them speak, and if alternate media were banned when trying to report on them, then this might be a strategy. Of course, what kind of messed up totalitarian system would we have where corporations could silence the President of the United States? Ha Ha
It doesn’t change the ethical calculus much, but I would guess this book was written by a professional ghost writer. This would involve Cuomo doing a few interviews, reading sections sent to him for review, and maybe occasionally sending back corrections.
On the other hand, this is the man who created those very odd commemorative posters, so maybe he does consider himself a creative/artistic type and insisted on writing it himself.
I seriously doubt he wrote it by himself — and there’s nothing inherently wrong about using a ghost writer, in my opinion.
But if one is not a professional writer, there’s no way you’re going to write something that long by yourself in such a short period of time. There are lots of professional writers who feel they’re doing good to produce one novel in a year (but, of course, also some who can produce multiple books every year).
I don’t know — and will never know — just how well written this book might be. But I do know that writing good prose is hard work.