Cuomo, who specialized in controlling ethics commissions, sues existing ethics commission for being too independent of the governor

The former governor filed a lawsuit against the new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying to challenge its ‘constitutional authority’ over a probe into his pandemic book deal.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations, political observers have watched the former governor’s attempt at a political comeback, including creating a PAC and debuting a podcast. Now the embattled ex-governor is back in the news, this time with a lawsuit against the new state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government. 

The ex-governor is arguing that the new commission violates the state constitution by infringing on the governor’s executive power – an unsurprising perspective from a former governor who eliminated the first ethics commission that challenged him and then allegedly interfered with the next one.

The latest ethics commission – a successor to the Cuomo-era Joint Commission on Public Ethics – continued a probe relating to the former governor’s pandemic-focused memoir. Before its dissolution last July, JCOPE voted to rescind its previous approval of Cuomo’s $5 million book deal – accusing the former governor of using state resources to write the book, violating the Public Officers Law. Shortly after its creation, the new state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying voted to continue on the thread of old cases from its predecessor – including that of Cuomo’s book deal.

Cuomo filed a lawsuit against the new state ethics commission to challenge its “constitutional authority” and invalidate any action against him by the commission. Cuomo’s lawyers assert the separation of powers – with three co-equal branches of government – is the “bedrock” of the government and each branch of government is free from interference while pointing to the state and federal constitutions. The lawsuit argues the ethics commission specifically infringes on the power of the executive branch.

“In derogation of the Governor's constitutional powers and obligations, it vests COELIG, through its members and officers, with sweeping powers of investigation, enforcement, and punishment that are quintessentially executive,” the lawsuit reads. 

Cuomo knows his way around an ethics probe. His administration created the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption in 2013. The commission issued hundreds of subpoenas to trace lawmakers’ income and probe for wrongdoing. Cuomo abruptly pulled the plug on the whole operation a year later. Cuomo and the state Legislature then formed JCOPE in 2011 to enforce lobbying regulations, but the governor was accused of trying to influence the commission through back channels after a leak about an investigation into his aide Joe Percoco in 2019. 

This isn’t Cuomo’s first lawsuit against a state ethics commission. In April 2022, Cuomo sued JCOPE to prohibit the commission from taking his profits from the book after initially approving the deal – accusing the commission of demonstrating “extraordinary bias against him.” The commission ordered the governor to forfeit $5.1 million in proceeds from the book a few months after his resignation in August 2021. Cuomo prevailed in his lawsuit against JCOPE in August 2022, and the commission was dismantled a few months later.

“Never in the history of New York has an agency so breathtakingly and irresponsibly prejudged a matter on which it is the final decision maker,” Cuomo’s attorneys said of JCOPE at the time. 

A spokesperson for the former governor Rich Azzopardi expressed confidence Cuomo would be successful again. “In this matter, we didn’t write the constitution, which was approved by the citizens of New York … It’s been clear since the beginning that this is all about politics, rules be damned.” When asked for comment by City & State, COELIG declined to comment on “pending litigation.”

A hearing on the lawsuit is set for early June.