Cuomo’s assistant canceled Hochul’s flight for fundraising. Then Hochul became governor.


ALBANY – Prior to making several taxpayer-funded airplane trips that could violate state ethics rules, Governor Kathy Hochul’s office was told that using a state-owned airplane for the sole purpose of attending a campaign fundraiser was illegal.

After becoming governor, however, Hochul used a state plane to attend a private campaign event in Buffalo. His office maintains the flight to Buffalo was legal, using reasoning that has never been specifically explored in the state’s past ethical opinions.

On August 10, facing a likely impeachment, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced he would resign after a two-week transition period. This meant that Hochul, the lieutenant governor, would take up his new post on August 24.

In the meantime, Hochul had already planned a fundraiser for the campaign on August 18 in the Buffalo area. After Cuomo’s announcement, interest in his event increased – and had to be moved to a larger space.

Ahead of this fundraiser, according to someone with first-hand knowledge of the matter, top Hochul staffer asked Cuomo’s top staff to use a state-owned plane to transport Hochul to the event. .

But in a phone call, Cuomo’s top aide, Gov. Secretary Melissa DeRosa, informed Hochul chief of staff Jeff Lewis that the request was denied.

DeRosa told Lewis that a state-owned plane could not be used to travel to a campaign fundraiser. Another person, who was briefed on the conversation at the time, said the Hochul camp was angered by the refusal as they prepared to take the governorship.

On Thursday, Hochul’s office did not dispute that the conversation between DeRosa and Lewis had taken place.

“Needless to say, our administration is not taking legal advice from the old administration,” Hochul press secretary Hazel-Crampton-Hays said. “Every theft request is reviewed by a lawyer.”

Earlier this week, Hochul’s office told The Times Union that in light of questions about several thefts during her first 45 days in office – when she carried out campaign activities, but none of the charges were was reimbursed to taxpayers – the Hochul office had asked its ethics counselor to review all uses of the aircraft and make the appropriate reimbursements.

DeRosa’s justification for denying the flight is supported by two ethics opinions from 2007 and another from 2013 which determined that the state plane was to be used by a New York public official, the primary purpose of the trip must be “Good faith state affair” – no fundraising.

Yet when Hochul became governor – and no longer had to ask permission from Cuomo staff – she used a state plane in this manner for another campaign-related event in Buffalo.

As the Times Union reported on Thursday, on the morning of September 19, Hochul flew from Buffalo to Syracuse and gave a keynote address at Syracuse University, which Hochul’s office considered related to the government and then organized a “private event” linked to the campaign. That afternoon, she flew from Syracuse to Buffalo, made a phone call with staff, then hosted another private event at 7 p.m., before spending the night in Buffalo.

Hochul flew from Buffalo to New York the next morning, without performing any other government-related activity in Buffalo, according to recently released Executive House schedules that detail his first 45 days as governor.

David Grandeau, the former senior state lobbying enforcement official, said the Syracuse-Buffalo flight appeared to be a case where the Hochul campaign and not the taxpayers should foot the full bill. After landing in Buffalo, the only government-related activity was the phone call from staff regarding environmental policy announcements – an exchange that did not require Hochul to travel to Buffalo – before the private political event there. low.

It is not clear whether Hochul hosted a fundraiser on the evening of September 19 or whether the “private” event was of a different nature related to the campaign. The Executive Chamber has repeatedly refused to say so.

Citing a 2013 ethics advisory, Hochul’s office said the Sept. 19 flight in Buffalo was legal because she was returning “home” from conducting state business.

Originally from the Buffalo area, the Governor moved into the Executive Mansion in Albany when she took office on August 24, though she and her husband still own a condo in Buffalo.

Hochul’s office says she divides her time between Albany, New York, and Buffalo. State ethics opinions did not address the issue of a governor with multiple residences, or whether returning to one of them allows an official to cover the cost of air travel by taxpayers. In his first 45 nights as governor, Hochul slept nine times in Buffalo, his schedules indicate.

If a state ethics body such as the Joint Commission on Public Ethics were to investigate the Hochul flights, the conclusion could be more severe had his office been made aware that his actions were potentially legally problematic.

According to state law, anyone who “knowingly and intentionally violates” the Public Officials Act – including a provision prohibiting state officials from using their position to obtain “unjustified privileges” – is liable to a civil penalty of up to $ 10,000 and the value of the benefit resulting from the violation.

According to his schedule, in his first 45 days in office, Hochul attended 64 “private events” related to his governorship campaign, including donor meetings and fundraisers, enabling his campaign to raise money. a record $ 10 million in his first three months in office. .

Amid a fast-paced program juggling government and campaign activities, Hochul used state planes for 45 flights in the first 45 days of his tenure. None of the trips were considered “mixed-use” by the Hochul office – comprised of both government and campaign-related activities – despite a busy campaign schedule on many trips. And none of the flight costs for using a state-owned Beechcraft King Air 250 or state helicopter were reimbursed to taxpayers by the Hochul campaign.

Many of the “private events” were back-to-back meetings of less than an hour and held in New York City, suggesting they were meetings with campaign donors. Under an exemption granted by JCOPE in 2013 when Cuomo was governor, officials can travel to New York City, organize government and fundraising events there, and stay overnight without reimbursing taxpayers for the theft – because the governor has an office in New York. .

The alleged misuse of state resources was also at issue during Cuomo’s tenure.

Cuomo’s 2014 campaign manager Joseph Percoco made extensive use of a state government office next to Cuomo’s to make campaign-related calls. Cuomo said he was not aware of Percoco’s activities.

More recently, an Assembly Judiciary Committee released in November detailed Cuomo’s heavy use of state employees to write a 2020 book that grossed the then governor $ 5.1 million. The report detailed how DeRosa was heavily involved in the work on the production of the book. Cuomo said such work was legal, since government personnel “volunteered.”

And as the Times Union reported in August, Cuomo allegedly used state police to run personal errands, walk dogs, and transport the governor’s children to social events. The state police also maintain the fleet of planes and helicopters that governors, including Hochul, use for their travel.

In his state of state address on Wednesday, Hochul proposed replacing JCOPE with a new entity that would be much more independent from state politicians. Hochul’s taxpayer-funded plane travel could serve as a test for New York’s ethics apparatus: Since Cuomo stepped down, she has replaced most of her six JCOPE commissioners with her own people.

Source link

Comments are closed.