For the decade he was governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo exercised nearly unquestioned power in the halls of the state Capitol.
Now a private citizen, Cuomo no longer has the trappings of the office. But he still retains an $18 million pot of money from his days as a prodigious fundraiser. He's using the money to pay attorneys and former advisors as part of a public and private defense effort amid a cascade of ongoing criminal and civil investigations at the local, state and federal level.
The campaign apparatus has been used this week, too, to promote and endorse an op/ed from a supporter and attorney who worked for the late Gov. Mario Cuomo that called the process that led to Cuomo's resignation last month a "coup d'etat."
Cuomo, who resigned Aug. 24, reported in July having spent $285,000 in campaign donations. It's likely even more money has been spent since then. This week, Spectrum News 1 reported Gov. Kathy Hochul's office had blocked the use of public money to pay the attorneys of former Cuomo administration officials.
While the use of campaign funds to pay for attorneys fees is common, Cuomo's leveraging of campaign money to respond to the myriad investigations and wage a public and ongoing battle in the court of public opinion is unusual, said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
"This is a crazy system. The Board of Elections should weigh in," Horner said. "They should reject these expenditures and the Legislature should fix the law so campaign contributions can't be used for anything, just campaigning."
A state elections spokesman on Thursday afternoon said no advisory opinion has been issued by the board for the way Cuomo is using the campaign money. No request for an advisory opinion from the Cuomo campaign has been made, either.
"We are following all applicable laws and standards," said Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for the former governor.
Cuomo stepped down in the days after the release of a report that found he sexually harassed 11 women. The report, released by Attorney General Letitia James's office, was the culmination of a months-long independent probe of a cascade of allegations facing Cuomo by multiple women.
But Cuomo continues to face multiple investigations, including one by Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple's office stemming from allegations he groped a woman in the governor's mansion. The U.S. attorney's office also launched a criminal investigation into the state's tabulation of nursing home fatalities and where those residents died.
James' office is also probing the use of government resources by Cuomo to write a book about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Assembly Judiciary Committee since the spring has been conducting an investigation with the help of an outside law firm that has drawn in multiple controversies facing Cuomo this year. A report is expected as soon as next week.
John Kaehny, the executive director of the good-government organization Reinvent Albany, said ethics watchdogs in state government have had long-standing concerns with the use of campaign cash for legal fees. The state does restrict campaign money of former officials for things like parties or luxury goods like cars and boats.
"They're concerned that this ex-governor who's disgraced and turns into this $18 million madman that slashes and burns the entire political firmament of New York state," Kaehny said.
Cuomo's allies have in the last several days sought to question the fairness of the report, questioning whether state lawmakers received preferential COVID-19 tests when supplies were scarce, as Cuomo reportedly did for his family.
Azzopardi, the Cuomo spokesman, also released a statement from Glavin that pointed to the use of government aides to help campaign for lawmakers, drawing an oblique comparison to the book controversy as part of a response to the Assembly's investigation.
The legislative report could detail ways in which administration officials broke laws, according to lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee.
The report could also provide corrobortation for the investigations on the sexual harassment allegations as well as the nursing home data reporting, Kaehny said.
"It's important to Kathy Hochul, too, because she's making a push for a more ethical and normal government than the crazed bullying we saw under Cuomo," he said.
The Cuomo campaign social media presence, meanwhile, has also been leveraged. On Wednesday evening, the campaign's Twitter account promoted an op/ed by attorney David Pikus, who had worked on Mario Cuomo's campaign as a volunteer. The opinion essay in full was later sent to supporters in an email by the campaign.
The op/ed largely hewed to many of the talking points Cuomo and his allies have made publicly: Knocking "cancel" culture and blaming "socialists" lawmakers for weaponizing sexual harassment claims.
But Pikus's op/ed also went further, accusing lawmakers in Albany of leading a "coup" against Cuomo.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was elected alongside Cuomo in 2014 and 2018 as lieutenant governor, shrugged off the op/ed as noise.
"Doesn't affect me," she said. "People will say what they want, they can devine what they want. I'm just not going to be distracted by the chatter that's there now, that might intensify."