Facebook is staying mum about one of its employees who advised former Gov. Andrew Cuomo on how to handle sexual misconduct claims even as legal experts tell The Post the company could be on the wrong side of state lobbying laws.
Facebook communications manager Dani Lever was part of Cuomo’s “inner circle” of confidantes who helped plan the then-governor’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct, according to the attorney general’s investigation released last month. She joined Facebook in August 2020 after having worked in the governor’s press office since 2014.
Legal experts tell The Post that Lever’s role advising Cuomo likely put Facebook in violation of New York state’s lobbying law.
The law bans registered lobbyists from giving gifts worth more than $15 to public officials — and Facebook has been a registered lobbyist in New York state since at least 2019, public records show.
Because Lever is a Facebook employee and a communications professional, her work helping Cuomo navigate the public relations crisis constituted an illegal gift on behalf of the company, says David Grandeau, the former top ethics watchdog in New York state.
“Using your professional services and providing them to a public official for free of charge is a gift,” Grandeau told The Post. “It’s a misdemeanor for her and it’s a misdemeanor for Facebook. It is a clear violation.”
Grandeau, an attorney who enforced lobbying laws as head of New York’s Temporary State Commission on Lobbying from 1995 to 2007, added that he would expect any prosecution of Lever or Facebook to be a “slam dunk” — and he is not the only state ethics expert who says that Lever’s interactions with her former boss could run afoul of the law.
A violation of New York’s ban on gifts is a Class A misdemeanor, according to state legislative law. People convicted of Class A misdemeanors may face up to one year in prison and three years’ probation, as well as a fine of up to $1,000.
Steven Leventhal, co-chair of the ethics and professionalism committee of the municipal law section of the New York State Bar Association, confirmed that services like public relations advice can violate the state’s lobbying law. He said he saw a “potential application” of the state’s lobbying law in the case of Facebook, Lever and Cuomo.
While working as an employee of Facebook, Lever reportedly helped Cuomo’s aides distribute a confidential personnel file belonging to Cuomo accuser Lindsey Boylan — who was the first of several women to accuse the governor of sexual misconduct — in what investigators called an attempt to “discredit and disparage” her.
Other Cuomo confidantes accused of helping the governor strategize on how to handle the sexual misconduct allegations — including Human Rights Campaign head Alphonso David, Time’s Up executives Tina Tchen and Roberta Kaplan, as well as a duo of managing directors at public relations firm Kivvit — have all since quit their jobs or been fired.
But while other outfits have gradually taken action, Facebook has not responded to four requests from The Post over the span of more than a month to comment on Lever’s role in Cuomo’s defense. It also hasn’t responded to calls from elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including from Republican US Rep. Elise Stefanik and Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim, for her to be fired.
Lever didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from The Post.
Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government organization, said acting as an “agent” for the governor while working for someone else “raises serious questions for the employer.”
“It is potentially a gift that could create a problem under the gift ban,” he told The Post.
The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a state body also known as JCOPE, is responsible for enforcing state lobbying laws and could theoretically decide to open an investigation into the matter. Alternatively, any resident of New York state could file a complaint with JCOPE and the group — which is composed of members appointed by the governor and state Assembly — would be required to either open an investigation or officially close the file within 45 days.
Grandeau and Horner both described JCOPE as toothless and said they did not expect it to open a probe.
“Never underestimate the pure incompetence of New York’s investigatory ethics agencies,” Grandeau said of JCOPE, which is currently probing Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal.
JCOPE spokesman Walter McClure said in an email to The Post that “each situation has its own set of facts and circumstances” but didn’t answer specific questions about Facebook or say whether the organization planned to open an investigation.
JCOPE proceedings are private by law, so they aren’t able to be requested as a public record, unless the group reaches a settlement or finds that an individual or group violated the law.
District attorneys in the counties where the alleged crimes took place also could theoretically bring charges against Lever or Facebook, Grandeau said. District attorneys’ offices for Albany County, where the governor’s office is located, and Brooklyn, where public records show Lever lives, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
While Lever hasn’t posted on her Twitter account since The Post wrote about her role in Cuomo’s defense, her bio still says she works at Facebook and she has recently provided comments to news outlets on Facebook’s behalf. She was quoted in the New York Times and USA Today over the weekend, apologizing for a Facebook feature that mislabeled black men as primates. Neither newspaper mentioned her connections to Cuomo.