Cuomo faces ethics complaint from watchdog group over book promotion by campaign

Allegation comes as embattled governor faces cascading scandals

A watchdog group on Thursday filed an ethics complaint against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for allegedly using his campaign apparatus, including its expansive email list, to boost sales for his pandemic-related book. 

Cuomo, a Democrat, was paid more than $4 million for his book, titled "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic," according to the New York Times. The report suggested that Cuomo may have used state resources to help develop the book, which a spokesman denied to the Times. 

But the Thursday ethics complaint, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), makes a separate allegation that Cuomo's campaign apparatus was used to promote book sales, which, it alleges, is against New York state law. 

"Cuomo for New York appears to have converted campaign funds to personal use by promoting sales of Gov. Cuomo’s book through emails and social media posts," the ethics complaint, filed with the New York State Board of Elections, alleges. 

MARCH 24: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. Cuomo, who saw his image soar in the early days of the pandemic, now faces cascading scandals including fudging numbers for nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus and many allegations of sexual harassment. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

MARCH 24: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to the media at the Javits Convention Center which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases on March 24, 2020 in New York City. Cuomo, who saw his image soar in the early days of the pandemic, now faces cascading scandals including fudging numbers for nursing home deaths related to the coronavirus and many allegations of sexual harassment. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

The Cuomo campaign did not immediately return a request for comment from Fox News.

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The complaint details multiple instances in which Cuomo used his campaign's mailing list and social media accounts to drive sales of the book. 

"Dad’s new book, American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from COVID-19 Pandemic, will be published this week," an email, written in the name of Cuomo's daughters and sent from "info@andrewcuomo.com," reads.

"The book tells the story of how his team and all New Yorkers met the moment when the pandemic hit our state," the email continues, before linking to the Amazon page for Cuomo's book. "We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did. You can order your copy here."

"The bottom of the email clearly stated it was 'Paid for by Andrew Cuomo for New York, Inc.,'" the CREW complaint notes. 

The complaint also lists several similar messages that appeared across Cuomo's Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, which it says are run by "Cuomo for New York," the governor's campaign committee. 

"A campaign’s mailing list is an asset that has value – those lists are regularly sold or rented. By using its mailing list to promote sales of the book, Cuomo for New York used campaign funds for Gov. Cuomo’s personal benefit," the complaint adds. "Social media accounts also are an asset of the campaign. By repeatedly using those accounts to promote sale of the book, Cuomo for New York used campaign funds for Gov. Cuomo’s personal benefit."

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It also notes that the email sent from Cuomo's campaign website, and the posts on his social media, were likely drafted and posted by paid campaign consultants. 

Cuomo has said multiple times that he is donating at least a portion of his book proceeds to charity, although it is not clear how much. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, walks with daughter Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion on March 12, 2021. Cuomo's campaign is alleged to have helped boost sales of the governor's book by sending at least one note to his email list which was signed in the names of Cuomo's children. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, walks with daughter Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion on March 12, 2021. Cuomo's campaign is alleged to have helped boost sales of the governor's book by sending at least one note to his email list which was signed in the names of Cuomo's children.  (Angus Mordant/REUTERS)

The complaint notes that this specific situation has not been addressed by the New York State Board of Elections. But it says another advisory opinion written by the elections board – which says a former mayor may not, after leaving office, use his campaign apparatus to help write a book – is similar enough to be relevant to CREW's complaint against Cuomo. 

CREW, which is ostensibly a nonpartisan group, has a history of taking actions against Republicans. Its "about" page touts that "On Donald Trump’s first full day in the Oval Office, CREW sued him for violating the Emoluments Clauses of the U.S. Constitution." 

CREW notably was on the forefront of attacking Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., over allegedly improper pandemic-related stock trades last year. Both were later cleared, along with a handful of other senators whose trades came under scrutiny as well. 

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CREW President and CEO Noah Bookbinder was a former top staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee under former Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. 

"The law only works when it applies to everyone, regardless of power or party," Bookbinder said in a statement. "Gov. 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."

Cuomo has seen his public image take a major beating in recent months amid cascading scandals. 

He's been accused of covering up nursing home deaths due to the coronavirus, which many say were due to New York's policies early in the pandemic; sexually harassing several women; creating, along with a cadre of top aides, a toxic work environment for subordinates and reporters; and directing state officials to prioritize coronavirus tests for people close to him, including his brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo. 

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Cuomo's office has denied that he inappropriately touched any women; denied fudging nursing home numbers; denied directing coronavirus tests to people close to Cuomo; and said any alleged toxic work environment is the result of high expectations of his office. Cuomo has apologized for making any women uncomfortable with verbal remarks. 

The governor is currently facing an impeachment effort from the state legislature and an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James. 

Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.