Politics

NY Gov. Kathy Hochul's top aide is married to a lobbyist for Verizon, Google and Airbnb

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Key Points
  • New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's top aide is married to a lobbyist with clients including Google, Verizon and Airbnb.
  • Mike Keogh, husband of secretary to the governor Karen Keogh, has been part of a team that as recently as June has been lobbying Hochul's staff.
  • Verizon, Google and Airbnb all tapped Mike Keogh and the firm to lobby earlier this year.
  • Mike Keogh's firm told CNBC he would not lobby the governor's office.

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Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks as she visits the Louis Armstrong New York City Public School 143 in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 18, 2021.
David 'Dee' Delgado | Reuters

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's top aide is married to a lobbyist who represent clients such as Verizon, Airbnb and Alphabet's Google.

Hochul named Karen Persichilli Keogh, a veteran of Hillary Clinton's U.S. Senate office and the wife of longtime lobbyist Mike Keogh, as secretary to the governor. Prior to taking her new job with Hochul, Karen Keogh was an executive at Wall Street giant J.P. Morgan Chase, where she once held a state lobbying position.

The secretary to the governor is a crucial position in New York's state government. Melissa DeRosa held the job under Andrew Cuomo, who resigned this week due to a sexual harassment scandal. DeRosa was mentioned repeatedly in a report by the New York State Attorney General detailing alleged instances of Cuomo sexually harassing at least 11 women. Cuomo has denied wrongdoing.

DeRosa was also tied to a major Albany lobbyist: her father Giorgio DeRosa, who is a leader at Bolton St. Johns. Mike Keogh is a partner at the same firm.

After an inquiry from CNBC, a spokesman for the firm said in an email Thursday that Mike Keogh will not lobby Hochul or her team.

"For over 20 years, Bolton-St Johns' entire firm has followed all ethics rules and laws, and Mr. Keogh has decided he will not lobby the Executive Chamber," the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for the governor later said the secretary to the governor will recuse herself in any discussions and decisions related to her husband's lobbying efforts.

Mike Keogh has several marquee clients that have recently been trying to influence New York lawmakers and officials – including Hochul's office when she was lieutenant governor – according to state disclosure reports. Mike Keogh and his team lobbied Hochul's staff as recently as June.

Hochul's office said at the time of Karen Keogh's appointment that "recusals will be put in place  by midnight to ensure that any New York State business relating to the secretary's spouse will be delegated in order to prevent any appearance of conflicts of interest."

The Keogh situation nonetheless presents a complicated problem for the new governor. The corporations represented by Mike Keogh conduct extensive business in the state. Google, for instance, has said it plans to invest $250 million in New York City this year with more jobs on the way.

Among other items, Verizon announced last year it would were investing $43 million in New York City, in a bid to help provide digital learning tools to students who were forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A Hochul press representative did not respond to CNBC's follow up questions about how exactly Keogh is going to recuse herself from her spouse's work.

Hochul said this week that a stronger ethics code will be part of her new administration, which will include "requiring ethics training for every employee of New York State government," she said on Tuesday. Hochul on Thursday announced New York State Senator Brian Benjamin will be her lieutenant governor.

The governor herself could have to answer for potential conflicts that go beyond members of her team.

CNBC reported that her daughter-in-law is a lobbyist at a pharmaceutical firm that has been seeking to influence state and federal lawmakers.

William Hochul, the governor's husband, is the senior vice president and general counsel at gambling and hospitality giant Delaware North, which is based in Buffalo. Hochul's administration will have authority over key regulators that have ties to the gambling industry, including the New York State Gaming Commission.

Hochul's office previously told CNBC that Delaware North has set up a firewall that prevents William Hochul from having any involvement in state business, restricts his compensation from New York State-related businesses and establishes strict monitoring of any communications with Delaware North.

Government watchdogs say that they expect Hochul to be more transparent than Cuomo.

"As Governor Hochul commits herself to the task before her of addressing the past decade of abuses under Cuomo, we know she wants to lead by example, and that's why we urge her and her team to be as transparent with the public as possible," Susan Lerner, an executive director at Common Cause/ New York, told CNBC in a statement on Thursday. "Once they've settled in, we expect them to release meeting schedules and verify that those with previous conflicts of interest were not involved in the discussions."

TESTD, a private company that provides vaccine verification and helps businesses keep track of tests for diseases such as Covid, had Mike Keogh and other Bolton St. Johns lobbyists engage with state lawmakers between May and June, a lobbying report says.

The disclosure says that Cuomo and Hochul's staff were lobbied "regarding potential partnerships for Covid testing and vaccination process in the state of New York."

A lobbying report also shows that pharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions also tapped Keogh and lobbyists at his firm to lobby officials on a bill that "relates to prescribing an opioid antagonist with a patient's first opioid prescription each year." That piece of legislation has passed both the state Senate and Assembly but has yet to make it's way to the governor's desk.

Verizon, Google and Airbnb all tapped Keogh and the firm to lobby earlier this year.

Between March and April, Google paid the firm $20,000 to lobby Cuomo and Hochul's staff on issues pertaining to the budget. Airbnb paid $25,000 for the firm to lobby executive chamber staffers " regarding short-term rental legislation in the state of New York."

Verizon paid the firm just over $18,000 between January and February to lobby Hochul's staff on issues surrounding a permit and the state budget.

Karen Keogh also has ties to lobbying campaigns.

Her LinkedIn page says she was once a managing director and head of state government relations at J.P. Morgan.

State lobbying reports show that J.P. Morgan Securities spent about $22,000 between January and June in trying to influence local officials. Hochul's previous office is not listed among those targeted by the investment arm of the Wall Street giant.