Since reports were released that showed Governor Andrew Cuomo had taken an executive order to allow himself to accept around $890,000 in campaign funding from his appointees to state boards, his administration is now asserting that the order was never intended to be applied to the majority of board appointees.
However, the administrations’ reasoning and its interpretation of the executive order appear to be changing.
Two weeks ago, when administration officials were first asked about the donations, they said that they though the order only prevented salaried state employees and board members who could be fired by the governor from donating.
Then on Tuesday, February 27, after rivals criticized the move, administration officials added, for the first time, to their interpretation, that to be covered by the order board members had to have been required to file financial disclosure reports to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
The New York Times reports, “The disclosure requirement, which does not appear in the order — and which Cuomo administration officials did not mention in a 30-minute call last Friday or in several written statements — would dramatically water down the directive, even from the administration’s first interpretation, freeing many more appointees to give cash to the governor’s campaign. So who is covered by the executive order?”
On Friday, February 23, The Times was told by an official from the Cuomo administration that it “shouldn’t be that difficult to come up with examples for you quickly,” noting that the state has more than 550 boards, and in excess of “2,000 appointees, or people serving in those positions.”
However, several days after the request, only three boards were identified as being with the scope of the order: the Albany Convention Center Authority, the Capital Program Review Board at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Occupational Safety and Health Hazard Abatement Board
Executive director of government watchdog group Reinvent Albany John Kaehny told The Times, “Totally illogical, contorted, bizarre and nonsensical. This is not a case where the language is unclear or the intent is unclear.” He added, “For the governor’s office to come up with this up-is-down, down-is-up interpretation is totally not credible, and it undermines public trust in government. And it’s nonsense.”
Cuomo has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for his stance. Rivals are demanding that the governor return approximately $890,000 in contributions from state appointees. The Legislature is also being encouraged by government reformers to make the executive order into a law, thereby eliminating any interpretations of it.
In the administration’s view, there is only one appointee who violated the executive order, and $2,250 will be returned to them by Cuomo’s campaign.
By Rachel Shapiro