In October, five months after his domestic partner started working at a Boston public relations powerhouse, the presumptive next president of the state Senate journeyed far outside his district to visit one of his partner’s clients, promoting the visit on social media.
Earlier this month, two days after reassuring his colleagues that he had imposed a “firewall” between his personal life and the business of the Senate, Stanley C. Rosenberg led a group of five lawmakers to a state government conference at a luxury beachfront hotel on St. Thomas. And his partner, Bryon Hefner, accompanied him.
The two instances illustrate the difficulty Rosenberg faces in keeping separate the Senate presidency he is poised to assume next month and his relationship with Hefner, who angered senators earlier this year by apparently taunting outgoing Senate President Therese Murray on Twitter and boasting of his influence over legislative affairs.
Heightening the complexity is the fact that Hefner, 27, was in the employ of the Regan Communications public affairs firm — which markets its ability to “help clients build stronger relationships with key lawmakers on the local, state and federal levels through successful lobbying efforts” — while he was discussing with senators their potential committee assignments under a Rosenberg presidency, and his potential influence over them, according to Senate insiders.
Rosenberg, 65, has sought to reassure colleagues that Hefner’s meddlesome behavior has come to an end. But, even in St. Thomas at the Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star resort, the tension over that and other issues flared up during a tense confrontation between Hefner and another senator over internal Senate politics.
Hefner and Senator Jennifer L. Flanagan, a Leominster Democrat who attended the conference with her boyfriend, sparred over Hefner’s past activities at a dinner that Rosenberg and another senator, Democrat Marc Pacheco of Taunton, attended, according to people familiar with the exchange. Various accounts have emerged, but the Globe has been told by a person with knowledge of the event that it got so heated that Hefner abruptly left the conversation.
It is common for significant others and lobbyists to attend legislative conferences, but Hefner’s dual role is unusual.
Rosenberg’s chief of staff, Natasha Perez, contested the Globe’s reporting about the incident.
“I have spoken with both Senator Pacheco and Senator Flanagan who confirm that no Senate business was discussed,” Perez said in an e-mail. “Any claim to the contrary is not true.”
Pacheco, who had not responded to requests for comment until prompted by Rosenberg aides, said he was not party to the exchange between Flanagan and Hefner. Pacheco said he was engaged in another conversation with Rosenberg at the time, but saw Hefner leave the table.
“They were having a conversation going back and forth,” Pacheco said in a phone interview. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
Hefner paid for his own airfare to the conference and a share of his lodging, Perez said.
Another incident, involving a visit by Rosenberg, also involves ties to Hefner’s employer.
The October visit to Randolph Engineering, a sunglasses manufacturer, put Rosenberg in the Senate district of Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat and someone who backed Rosenberg last year as he worked to cobble together the votes to secure the presidency. From his Twitter account, Rosenberg celebrated a “great time” at the facility and a chance “to learn about the needs of mid-sized businesses!”
More than a year earlier, in June 2013, Randolph Engineering, which received funds from the state in 2012 and 2013, had announced that it had hired Regan Communications to handle its PR work. Regan hired Hefner, who had previously worked as chairman of Rosenberg’s political committee, in May of this year.
Rosenberg aides said the senator was invited to visit the company by Joyce. They said Rosenberg did not know that Hefner was part of the Regan Communications team working on the Randolph Engineering account.
The event was not listed on Rosenberg’s official public schedule.
Also in October, Rosenberg attended a Boston Harbor cruise, sponsored by Regan Communications, aboard the Elite II. In a photo printed in the December edition of Coastal Angler magazine, a fishing publication, Rosenberg is shown smiling in a photo with George Regan, owner of the public relations firm, his arm around Rosenberg’s shoulder. Regan is also publisher of the magazine’s Boston edition.
Like the Randolph visit, the cruise was not listed on the senator’s schedule.
The presence of a politician, particularly one as prominent and evidently ascendant as Rosenberg, at a business-related event can add buzz and help depict the business as politically connected. Such appearances are not unusual for politicians to make.
But Rosenberg’s close ties to Regan, through Hefner, add a layer of complexity to his attendance at events sponsored by the firm or with any of Regan’s clients. Especially when that attendance is then broadcast in a publication that advertises Regan’s influence.
In an e-mailed statement, Perez said that Rosenberg “certainly has not referred anyone” to Regan or “any other firm.”
The Amherst Democrat attended the cruise because it was a social event to which partners were invited, she said.
State law prohibits public officials from acting in a way that would “cause a reasonable person” to conclude that “kinship, rank, position, or undue influence of any party or person” could improperly influence their official actions.
Rosenberg has so far withstood the political turmoil that enveloped him after the revelations about Hefner’s interference. Several senators have spoken out publicly in support of Rosenberg, reaffirming their intention to vote for him when the Senate leadership vote takes place in January.
Neither Regan nor anyone at his firm has been registered as a lobbyist in Massachusetts since 2010, according to state records, despite the company’s marketing of its “lobbying efforts.” Therefore, interactions between Regan and Rosenberg would not be subject to special laws passed to curb the influence of lobbyists and special interests on Beacon Hill.
A Regan spokeswoman said the agency does not directly lobby. If a client requires lobbying, Regan outsources the work, said the spokeswoman, Mariellen Burns.
“We have the highest ethical standards, and this is not a problem,” Burns said.
After the Globe reported earlier this month that Hefner had boasted of his influence over key Senate personnel decisions, Rosenberg sent a Dec. 3 letter to other senators assuring them that he had “enforced a firewall” between his job and his personal life.
He and Hefner left for St. Thomas on Dec. 5, according to people with knowledge of the trip.
Rosenberg told the Globe last month that his relationship with Hefner helped him publicly disclose his sexual orientation. The two also share a bond related to their shared background as foster children, and Hefner helped Rosenberg battle and recover from cancer.