Politics

Gov. Kathy Hochul's daughter-in-law is top lobbyist at pharma firm that has sought to influence NY lawmakers

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Key Points
  • Christina Hochul, married to the governor's son, is a director of federal policy at Biogen, according to her LinkedIn page. The company has been involved with a recent lobbying campaign in New York.
  • If Biogen continues to have business in the state, it could create an ethics hurdle the new governor will have to face as she settles into the job.
  • The governor's daughter-in-law is listed on federal lobbying disclosure reports, showing she and her team actively tried to influence members of Congress and those within President Joe Biden's administration.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul (R) together with her husband William J. Hochul Jr. and family members poses during her swearing in ceremony at the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York on August 24, 2021.
Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's daughter-in-law is a top lobbyist at a pharmaceutical firm that has been actively trying to influence state and federal lawmakers.

Hochul took over as governor Tuesday following Andrew Cuomo's resignation over a sexual harassment scandal.

During her first address as governor Tuesday, Hochul said her administration would address ethics issues.

"Today, I'm directing an overhaul of state government policies on sexual harassment and ethics, starting with requiring that all training be done live, instead of allowing people to click their way through a class," Hochul said in the speech, which she delivered soon after this story was first published.

Christina Hochul, who is married to the governor's son, William Hochul III, is a director of federal policy at Biogen. The company develops therapies that aim to combat Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy. Its corporate headquarters is in Massachusetts.

The company has been involved with a recent lobbying campaign in New York. State lobbying disclosure reports show that between January and June, Biogen paid $20,000 for Harter Secrest & Emery to engage with state lawmakers on multiple bills.

The disclosure report shows that the lobbyists Biogen hired targeted leaders in the state Senate on "potential legislation related to Alzheimer's disease."

The report does not list Christina Hochul as a lobbyist working the campaign. Yet if Biogen continues to have business in the state, it could create an ethics hurdle the new governor will have to face as she settles into the job.

A spokeswoman for Biogen told CNBC that Christina Hochul does not lobby at the New York state level and will not do so. The representative did not rule out the company itself engaging with New York state lawmakers while Kathy Hochul is governor.

"Christina Hochul works on federal health policy for Biogen; she has not, does not, and will not engage in state-level government affairs in New York," Allison Parks, the Biogen spokeswoman, said in an email Tuesday. "Biogen remains committed to engaging with government officials in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as well as our own internal ethical and compliance principles."

Christina Hochul did not respond to requests for comment.

The governor's daughter-in-law is listed on federal lobbying disclosure reports, showing that she and her team actively tried to influence members of Congress and those within President Joe Biden's administration.

Hochul's daughter-in-law isn't the only close family member creating optics problems for the new governor.

Hochul's husband, William Hochul, is a former federal prosecutor who works as senior vice president and general counsel at gambling and hospitality giant Delaware North. The Daily Beast noted that Hochul's administration will have authority over key regulators that have ties to the gambling industry, including the New York State Gaming Commission.

At the time, Hochul's team said there is "already a recusal process in place" as it relates to her husband's work for Delaware North. The Buffalo News previously reported that William Hochul will remain at Delaware North despite his wife becoming governor.

A spokesman for the governor's office told CNBC that Delaware North has set up a firewall that prevents Bill Hochul from having any involvement in state business, restricts his compensation from New York State-related businesses and establishes a strict monitoring of any communications with Delaware North to ensure compliance.

The spokesman did not answer questions on possible ethics issues pertaining to Christina Hochul's company conducting business in the state.

Blair Horner, the executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group Fund, told CNBC in an email Tuesday that Hochul should request an advisory opinion from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics on how to handle potential familial conflicts of interest.

"In the 21st Century, it's not surprising that spouses and offspring have their own careers that can impact a public official," Horner wrote. "The governor should request from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) a formal advisory opinion on how to keep separate the work of the state from her family members who are lobbyists. Under the law, JCOPE cannot make their opinions public, but the governor can — and should."

Ethics experts have already called on Hochul to strengthen the Executive Chamber's stance on possible ethics dilemmas following former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's nearly 12-year tenure running the state.

"It is beyond time to reform the state's ethics oversight system, shore up and fully follow FOIL [Freedom of Information] laws, and increase transparency about conflicts of interest," Susan Lerner, the executive director of government watchdog Common Cause/New York, said in a previous statement. "We are confident that incoming Governor Kathy Hochul sees the importance of these common-sense issues and understands the role they play in restoring integrity to the Executive Office and confidence in our state government."

Lerner spoke as part of a coalition of organizations calling on Hochul to make key reforms while governor.

Hochul's daughter-in-law has been a key lobbyist at the federal level. Lobbying disclosure reports for the first half of 2021 show that Christina Hochul lobbied for Biogen in the House, the Senate and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The lobbying reports note Hochul and her Biogen colleagues focused on issues pertaining to Medicare and Medicaid. The disclosure reports say Hochul and her team had "discussions regarding Medicaid 340B drug discount program" and a focus on "reducing out-of-pocket costs for biosimilars in Medicare Part B."

Prior to Biogen, Hochul lobbied for the McManus Group, a health-care consulting firm, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. There, CRP says, Hochul represented pharmaceutical firms such as Amgen, Allergan and Merck.