New York taxpayers will cover costs of governor's trip to wartime Israel

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's office on Thursday announced taxpayers will cover the costs of her recent visit to wartime Israel, reversing course after a nonprofit was supposed to pick up the tab but has yet to receive clearance from a state ethics panel.

The Democratic governor and a handful of staff and state police were in Israel last week, touring the country and meeting with officials and families displaced by the conflict.

Hochul had sidestepped multiple questions on who funded the trip, with her office saying only that a nonprofit group pledged to pay and that an ethics panel was reviewing the arrangement.

On Thursday, Hochul spokesperson Avi Small said the state will instead pay for the trip because the ethics board has not yet made a formal determination on the nonprofit group. He said the trip was initially going to be reimbursed by the UJA-Federation, a nonprofit that has previously paid for elected officials to travel to Israel.

The cost of the visit, including airfare, food and hotels for the governor and her staff, was about $12,000, Small said.

A spokesperson for the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government has said state law blocks them from commenting.

Hochul, who as governor has no direct role in diplomatic affairs, justified the trip as a way for her to show support for the Israeli people during the ongoing war. New York has the highest population of Jewish people outside of Israel.

Blair Horner, executive director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said Hochul should have gotten the trip approved by state ethics officials to ensure the nonprofit did not have ties to business before the state or other connections that could raise ethical issues.

“The governor should have gotten preclearance from the ethics commission before she did anything, before wheels lifted from the tarmac,” Horner said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a one-day trip to Israel last week to meet with people affected by Israel’s war with Hamas, stopping there on his way to China for a weeklong tour focused on climate change policies.

Newsom’s office said his international travel is paid for by the California State Protocol Foundation, which can accept donations on the governor’s behalf to pay for travel and other expenses so the state doesn’t have to use tax dollars. Newsom has transferred at least $4 million from his inaugural fund to the foundation since he was elected in 2019. That fund includes money from campaign donors.