This week, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, voted to investigate its own approval of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million dollar book deal.
But for critics of the board, that vote is too little too late.
A second ethics watchdog in New York, the inspector general, has also been under the microscope lately, which raises the question: Are New York’s ethics watchdogs contributing to the state’s ethical quagmire?
Capital Tonight spoke with Chris Bragg, a political and investigative reporter for the Capitol bureau of The Albany Times Union about the situation.
“JCOPE is a political entity in the sense that its leaders and commissioners are appointed by the governor and the state Legislature, so it’s not that surprising that once Cuomo resigns, new commissioners appointed by Gov. Hochul say they might now start investigating him,” Bragg told Capital Tonight. “And that speaks to a flaw that a lot of people see in how JCOPE was formed.”
Another black eye for JCOPE is that in January 2019, someone from the commission leaked to then Gov. Cuomo the breakdown of a vote on whether to pursue Cuomo ally Joe Percoco.
Cuomo was reportedly concerned enough to call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to complain about the vote (it was apparently Heastie’s JCOPE appointee who voted the “wrong” way).
The inspector general’s office under another Cuomo ally, Letizia Tagliaferro, was brought in to investigate the leak.
Tagliaferro recused herself, but another member of her office investigated, ultimately saying he couldn’t substantiate the leak.
It then came to light that he never interviewed the key people involved in the leak, specifically, Cuomo and Heastie.
Capital Tonight asked Bragg where that investigation stands.
“JCOPE issued a referral to the attorney general, which was legally necessary for asking for the attorney general to do an investigation into the leak,” Bragg explained. “It’s not clear if she’s going to do that yet. It also may have, during an executive session, asked the attorney general to investigate the inspector general’s investigation. But it’s not clear if that’s going to happen either.”