A quartet of good government groups called Thursday for an investigation into disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s suspected use of campaign funds to employ his official spokesman since resigning amid a sexual harassment scandal.
In a letter to the state Board of Elections, the groups said Cuomo appeared to be violating state Election Law by tapping his $18 million-plus political war chest to pay former communications director Rich Azzopardi to continue serving as his mouthpiece.
The law mandates that campaign cash “shall not be converted by any person to a personal use which is unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position,” according to the letter signed by Common Cause/NY, the state League of Women Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Reinvent Albany.
“News articles point out the former governor has no current plans to run for office and it indisputable that he does not currently hold office,” the letter says.
“Therefore, under the express provisions of [the law], former Governor Cuomo cannot legally pay the salary of a spokesman out of his campaign funds.”
Azzopardi was making $163,000 a year when he was taken off the state payroll the day before Cuomo announced his resignation.
John Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany added: “A campaign contribution becomes more and more like bribery if a candidate can spend it on whatever personal whim they have and in Cuomo’s case that may be punishing and terrorizing people he doesn’t like.”
“Azzopardi was Cuomo’s attack dog in charge of defaming and denigrating the women who came forward with the sexual harassment allegations,” Kaehny said.
“There’s no reason to think he is going to suddenly change his ways. He exists to serve Cuomo’s most belligerent and aggressive mood.”
Lawyer John Ciampoli, an expert in state election law, said the act of converting campaign funds for personal use is punishable as a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum one-year jail sentence.
But it more than $1,000 is involved, cases can be prosecuted as felony grand larceny under the state Penal Law, he said.
In an email, Azzopardi said, “I’m on board to help answer press inquires related to the Governor’s time in office and ongoing legal reviews — which is permissible.”
He didn’t elaborate and Cuomo’s defense lawyer, Rita Glavin, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for the Board of Elections declined to comment.