Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,I,SAM,ROS-Mahopac) was joined by his Assembly and Senate colleagues on Wednesday, May 19 for a press conference regarding his bill (A.7107) which would prohibit statewide elected officers and certain appointed officers from writing and selling a book during their term in public office. This legislative proposal comes after concerns were raised about Gov. Cuomo profiting from his book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, about his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York state. Yesterday, the governor’s tax returns were released to the public, revealing he received more than $5 million from the sale of his book. It hit shelves in October 2020. Production was halted in March 2021.
“Yesterday, we learned that the governor has made more than $5 million from the sale of his book,” said Byrne. “This only further adds to the mountain of criticism the governor has received since he first announced the intention to write and release a book during a pandemic that devastated our state. Reports of a massive profit from this book raises serious questions as to why COVID-19 mortality data was kept from the Legislature and the public, painting his public image in a more positive light during its release. Additional questions remain as to why the governor reportedly used state salaried employees to write and edit his book, potentially violating sections of existing Public Officers Law and seemingly violating conditions set by JCOPE, when he could have easily hired non-government employees. This is all on top of the basic fact that writing and selling a book during a pandemic, and therefore profiting from other people’s misery, is incredibly insulting and completely tone deaf to the pain families suffered from losing loved ones, especially in our state’s nursing homes. Many of our legislative colleagues, both Majority and Minority lawmakers, have publicly criticized the governor’s book deal and have alleged corruption. They can follow up those words with action by supporting my bill today. I welcome support from all my legislative colleagues.”
Byrne already has 10 co-sponsors on his bill in the Assembly. Same as legislation (S.5601A) has already been introduced in the Senate by Sen. George Borrello.
“The scandals and exposés on Governor Cuomo this session only confirmed that he believes he and his administration are above the laws and rules that he expects others to follow,” said Borrello. “There is no more compelling example of that than the way he brazenly exploited ethical loopholes surrounding the publishing and promotion of his book. As I said back in March when I introduced S.5601A, this isn’t a free speech issue, it’s an anti-corruption issue. Even if no laws were broken, the glaring conflicts of interest involved here raise all kinds of troubling ethical questions. It isn’t enough to just sit and wait for the outcome of the investigations that are underway. Both houses of the Legislature need to step up and strengthen our ethics law now, starting with this one. I am grateful for Assemblyman Byrne’s partnership on this measure and will be working with him and all of our colleagues to get this passed before the end of session.”
Should the legislation be passed, writing and selling a book while in office would be considered an additional violation of the code of ethics, opening the officer up to receiving a civil fine equaling the value of any gift or compensation that resulted from the violation, plus an additional fine of up to $10,000. It could also subject the officer to existing procedures to remove an officer from public office, including impeachment.
An article from the Democrat & Chronicle in October of 2020 exposed a potential flaw in the state’s ethics laws concerning potential conflicts of interest from writing and selling a book while in office. The story prompted Byrne to do more research on the matter, soliciting feedback from other subject experts and reviewing other examples in history where book sales from senior elected officials, such as former U.S. House Speaker James Wright, have been subject to allegations and charges of corruption.
After soliciting additional feedback from the public in an unscientific poll on social media back in March of 2021, Byrne found that 94.9 percent of the 1,917 votes cast favored a prohibition on full-time elected officials from writing and selling a book during their time in elected office.
In a previous release regarding this legislation, Byrne said, “The list of compelling reasons supporting the need for this legislation has only grown with time as the New York Times, Buffalo News and other media outlets have since reported additional details regarding the involvement of state salaried government employees in writing, editing and promoting the governor’s book. Most recently, it was also announced that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a public sector watchdog group, filed a formal complaint with the New York State Board of Elections against Gov. Cuomo for violating the law.”