New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) violated state election law by using his campaign to help sell his book, according to a complaint filed Thursday by a non-partisan government watchdog organization.
The criminal complaint alleges the governor unlawfully converted campaign funds to personal use as part of a scheme to enrich himself by promoting sales of his book about the COVID-19 pandemic late last year up to the present day.
According to the 16-page complaint filed with the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) Division of Election Law Enforcement by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Cuomo’s personally authorized campaign committee “repeatedly promoted sales” of the governor’s self-congratulatory memoir, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic.”
The complaint outlines some of those promotion efforts:
In the days and weeks surrounding the publication, Cuomo for New York repeatedly promoted sales of Governor Cuomo’s book.
In an email sent to supporters on October 11, 2020, Cuomo for New York promoted sales of Governor Cuomo’s book. The subject line of the emails was “Our Dad’s new book,” and while it was signed by Governor Cuomo’s daughters and the “From” line listed their names, it was sent from Cuomo for New York’s [email protected] email address. The email offered reasons to read the book, explained that it was being published that week, and stated: “We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did. You can order your copy here.” The highlighted link goes to the Amazon page for purchasing the book. The bottom of the email clearly stated it was “Paid for by Andrew Cuomo for New York, Inc.”
Additionally, CREW notes, Cuomo’s campaign “extensively” used various social media accounts and campaign staffers to promote what The New York Times earlier on Thursday reported was a “fleeting” best seller that netted the three-term Democrat a $4 million book deal. So far, the book has sold some 48,000 copies.
The complaint documents that Cuomo for New York promoted sales of the book on Facebook at least 10 times, on Twitter at least seven times, and on a campaign-specific Instagram account at least five times where book promotion allegedly “continues” to occur.
And oftentimes, the complaint points out, these promotions contain direct links to Amazon where users can purchase the book.
This use of campaign resources, CREW alleges, is a direct violation of New York State Election Law §14-130 which prohibits campaign funds from being “converted by any person to a personal use which is unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.”
A separate section of the law clarifies that campaign funds are improperly converted if used “exclusively for the personal benefit of the candidate or any other individual, not in connection with a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position.”
The complaint says that Cuomo “almost certainly earned income from sales of his book” and that the governor “has refused to release details about” his contract.
“Cuomo for New York appears to have converted campaign funds to personal use by promoting sales of Governor Cuomo’s book through emails and social media posts,” the complaint alleges—noting the various value of campaign email lists, accounts and staffers used to hawk the memoir can be expressed in monetary form. “By using the time of campaign employees and/or consultants to promote the book, Cuomo for New York used campaign funds for Governor Cuomo’s personal benefit.”
CREW wants the NYSBOE to investigate and issue sanctions.
“The law is clear that you cannot spend campaign funds for your own personal benefit,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “Because the money spent on book promotions appears to have been for the exclusive personal benefit of Governor Cuomo, he needs to be investigated.”
“The law only works when it applies to everyone, regardless of power or party,” Bookbinder added. “Governor Cuomo has operated in several spheres as though rules don’t apply to him. This appears to be another example, and it’s one that must be investigated.”
Law&Crime reached out to the governor’s office and attorneys but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[image via Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images]
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