Cuomo, Under Fire For Secrecy, Won't Release Letter To Newspaper

His aides sent a mystery 2,200-word dispatch to the Times. PIN messages and deleted emails.

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The New York Times last month wrote of an extraordinary letter it had received from the office of Governor Andrew Cuomo after it broke the news that gambling interests had secretly funneled $2 million into an ad campaign supporting him:

“For an issue advocacy and lobbying organization such as C.S.N.Y. — a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation and not a PAC or ‘political committee’ — such coordination with elected officials is wholly proper, common, and necessary,” Richard Bamberger, Mr. Cuomo’s communications director, and Jeremy Creelan, the governor’s special counsel, wrote in a letter to The New York Times late Monday....

In the 2,200-word letter, Mr. Cuomo’s aides praised the Committee to Save New York for its support of the governor’s agenda, including his proposals to reduce state spending, cap local property taxes and cut public employees’ pension benefits. They described the committee’s efforts as a crucial counterbalance to the labor unions that had opposed efforts by several governors to rein in state spending. Mr. Cuomo’s aides called the committee “a welcome addition to the debate and dialogue in Albany too long manipulated and controlled by a small handful of multimillion-dollar vested interests.”

The Times, however, did not print or post Cuomo's letter (which was 50% longer than the original article) and reporters there declined to give me a copy. I wrote Bamberger that week to request a copy of the letter; he didn't reply. So BuzzFeed filed a request under the state's Freedom of Information Law requesting a copy of the letter — which had, after all, been produced by state employees on the taxpayer dime and sent to a newspaper.

The Records Access Office responded promptly, as state law requires, promising to meet its legal obligation to either fullfil the request or explain the reason for denying it with in 20 business days. Cuomo's administration then failed to comply with the law and produce a copy of the letter.

This is a minor transgression, but it appears to be part of a pattern of secrecy and hostility to the press that has emerged as perhaps the biggest obstacle for a popular and powerful governor who is widely expected to seek the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2016. The Daily News reported yesterday that Cuomo has insisted on communicating only by phone and by PIN messages, which leave no record on servers and are also used by criminals to evade law enforcement. The Times reports today that the office regularly deletes emails and claims to have lost a video that was shown publicly.

We'll keep pursuing the elusive Times letter, and perhaps the state's refusal to release it will give the paper a pretext to print it or send it over; but Cuomo's secrecy does seem to be wearing a bit thin.

Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.

Contact Ben Smith at ben@buzzfeed.com.

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