BIG BROTHER MARCHING: Cuomo pushes rule that would restrict press freedom


big broGovernor Andrew Cuomo’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) sent the clearest instructions yet to New York public relations executives late Friday: Do not communicate with editorial writers. Doing so will trigger arduous JCOPE oversight.

Under JCOPE’s controversial and unilaterally achieved new “Advisory Opinion,” New York public relations executives who speak with editorial board writers in an attempt to influence them in behalf of a client must register as lobbyists, placing them under JCOPE’s jurisdiction.

JCOPE did not address the most obvious question: How will they monitor compliance without subpoenaing the emails, phone records, Twitter, SMS, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other messages between PR officials and editorial writers? Nor did the Cuomo entity explain why newspaper editorial boards are being singled out as influencers in a multi-platform digital world.

Many editorial writers have said that JCOPE’s new regulation would have a chilling effect on the free exchange of information between journalists and their sources. Others have warned that government monitoring of those exchanges would be a logical and necessary enforcement step.

Cuomo odd“JCOPE’s chairman Daniel J. Horwitz is apparently a bright guy: He was Bernie Madoff’s attorney; so I can’t figure out for the life of me why he is driving an initiative this intellectually asinine and constitutionally flawed,” said Bill O’Reilly, a partner at New York communications firm The November Team (TNT). “It’s as though JCOPE is delivering a surgical strike against editorial boards. If Mr. Horwitz can’t explain what’s really behind this initiative, perhaps his boss and patron, Governor Cuomo, can.”

Mr. Horwitz, a long-time and generous donor to Mr. Cuomo, was appointed to his position by the governor, and his wife, a respected public servant, serves as the $225,000-per-year President and COO of The Battery Park City Authority. Her appointment was delivered by Mr. Cuomo.

“We want to make our position crystal clear,” said TNT partner Jessica Proud. “We believe that this initiative is an Andrew Cuomo overreach on steroids. We find it impossible to imagine JCOPE, a body famously criticized as feckless, launching such a clumsy attack on The First Amendment on its own. This has Andrew Cuomo written all over it.”

The Cuomo Administration has publicly expressed concern about this initiative, yet it has not answered a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to provide communications on this issue between itself and JCOPE. JCOPE claimed legal immunity to FOIL requests.

“Under JCOPE’s ruling, PR firms will simply stop talking to editorial boards,” said TNT Managing Director Jerry McKinstry, a former journalist and editorial board member. “I can’t imagine how that’s in any way a healthy thing in a democracy.”

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