In February 2015, newly elected Governor Charlie Baker took sharp aim at Keolis Commuter Services, blasting the train operator for sputtering through epic snows that stranded thousands.
Keolis, in turn, followed the Beacon Hill playbook: The company put a Baker guy on its payroll.
By July, Keolis had quietly hired Keyser Public Strategies, the communications firm founded by consultant Will Keyser, an architect of Baker’s winning campaign who remains a confidant of the governor.
A year later, the Baker administration agreed to pay Keolis — already the recipient of the largest operating contract in state history — an additional $66 million to add trains and maintain equipment, with the hope of improving performance.
There is no evidence that Keyser’s role had anything to do with the additional payments, and Keyser, Baker, and Keolis each say it did not.
There’s also nothing illegal about Keolis hiring the governor’s strategist, even if it ultimately sought funding from the state. But the relationships, and the perceptions they create, underscore a common and often successful way in which business gets done on Beacon Hill.
Time and again, consultants who help candidates win elections then go on to represent corporate clients with interests before the new officeholder — even, in some cases, as they continue to advise the officials they helped elect.
David Guarino, who helped get Attorney General Maura Healey elected and remains an adviser, is a consultant and lobbyist whose clients include companies in health care and energy, industries that Healey’s office plays a key role in regulating.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s campaign strategist, Chris Keohan, is a registered lobbyist for a gambling company that bids on multimillion-dollar contracts from the Massachusetts Lottery, which Goldberg oversees.
Similar relationships flourish in city government: Campaign advisers to Mayor Martin J. Walsh represent clients who want or need things from Boston City Hall, the Globe has reported, relying on e-mails that highlight the advisers’ frequent and easy interaction with city officials.
The relationships can be harder to scrutinize at the state level, where — unlike the city — whole swaths of government are exempt from the public records law.
Whether consultants are selling their access to officials or not, “there is almost always an appearance of conflict of interest in these situations,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. And any perceived conflict is going to raise eyebrows, and doubts about government, said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the nonprofit government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
“When it starts to look like access is for sale, it does raise questions about how the official is running things,” he said.
Keolis, in a statement, said it hired Keyser Public Strategies, which the consultant runs with his wife, Eileen O’Connor, for the firm’s “right mix of corporate communications experience” and knowledge of local media, not as an inside lane to the governor who was so rough on the company.
Keyser says his company is not a lobbying firm. “Our clients understand that, and virtually all of them contract with other firms for those services,” Keyser said in a statement.
Keyser Public Strategies was well established before Baker’s election, with corporate clients that included AT&T and Penn National Gaming, the owner of the Plainville slot parlor. But since Baker was elected, Keyser has added, among others, Partners HealthCare, the national Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Lyft, which for more than a year has been focused on influencing policies for the ride-for-hire industry.
Each of those firms is keenly interested in influencing state government, employing a total of 16 registered lobbyists in Massachusetts, according to state records. Keyser’s firm stopped representing Lyft a few months ago, he said.
The only clients for which Keyser and O’Connor are registered as lobbyists are groups supporting the campaign to expand charter school access, a Baker priority that will be decided at the November ballot. Keyser acknowledges the firm is working closely with Baker on communications strategy and political messaging on the campaign.
The governor speaks with his former campaign strategist “semiregularly,’’ according to Keyser and the Baker administration, who each used the identical term in separate e-mail responses. The administration later explained that “semiregularly” means weekly, most often by phone.
The Baker administration would not directly address a question about whether the relationship poses conflicts given Keyser’s work for clients with business before the administration. Instead, the governor’s staff said Baker has taken positions counter to the interests of Keyser clients, and offered some examples.
The Retailers Association of Massachusetts is a Keyser Public Strategies client, yet Baker angered some retailers by not seeking to end the state requirement that stores pay workers time-and-a-half on Sundays. Baker has also been criticized for not pushing offshore wind power, despite Keyser’s work for Deepwater Wind, a wind power development group.
Deepwater Wind hired Keyser after Baker’s election in late 2014, according to Keyser. From 2011 to 2014, during Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, the company employed Patrick’s political consultant, Northwind Strategies, as a lobbyist, state records show.
“Keyser Public Strategies is a well-respected strategic communications firm and we hired them to assist us with messaging and media strategy in Massachusetts,” a Deepwater Wind spokeswoman said.
Another Baker confidant, Jim Conroy, followed the governor into the State House and served just over a year as a senior adviser. When Conroy left government in March to return to political and public affairs consulting, he told the Globe he would continue informally advising Baker.
Conroy has signed two corporate clients: Steward Health Care, and a firm he said he could not identify because of a nondisclosure agreement. Conroy said he does not offer lobbying and that his “two corporate clients have separately engaged lobbyists for that purpose.
“I don’t represent clients before the governor’s office,” Conroy said in an e-mail, “so there is no conflict.” State law would bar him from lobbying the governor’s office for a year after leaving his government post.
A Steward spokesman said the firm hired Conroy for communications and community relations, not for his connection to Baker; the company said Conroy has not spoken to Baker on its behalf.
For many consultants who represent corporate clients as their primary income, some cross-pollination with political figures is hard to avoid, said Jerold Duquette, a political scientist at Central Connecticut State University. “They cultivate a private clientele sometimes by getting publicity having done work for a political candidate,” he said. “It’s a profession [that] unless you’re already in the top strata, you’ve got to hustle to make a buck.”
Head of transition team
Goldberg’s consultant Keohan did not join state government after his candidate won, but did serve as executive director of Goldberg’s transition. Nonunion Treasury employees received letters signed by Keohan, asking them to reflect on whether they wanted to continue working for the new treasurer, and how to reapply if they did, according to Treasury e-mails acquired through a Globe public records request.
In April 2015, three months after Goldberg took charge of a workforce Keohan helped assemble, Keohan became a paid lobbyist for IGT, a gambling company with eyes on state lottery contracts, the Globe reported last year.
IGT, a Massachusetts Lottery vendor, hired Keohan to advocate for the company with state officials, and advise on “all aspects of the Massachusetts Lottery and state Treasury,” according to lobbying records.
The conflict of interest law prohibits former state employees from lobbying the agencies where they worked for a year after leaving state service. The State Ethics Commission advises that transition team members may be considered “public employees” subject to the conflict of interest law if they perform tasks ordinarily expected of government workers, such as overseeing hiring of public employees.
Keohan, in a statement, said that during the transition, legal counsel provided ethics training and advised him that “transition members were not considered employees.”
The state lottery chose IGT in January of this year to provide new hardware and software. Details of that contract are being negotiated, according to a lottery spokesman. The lottery’s internal scorecards used to review the bids say IGT offered a lower price, about $23.5 million, and scored better on technical measures than a competitor.
Lobbying records show since 2015, IGT has paid Keohan’s firm $128,000, which is nearly three times more than Keohan made working for Goldberg’s campaign.
Company spokeswoman Angela Wiczek said Keohan acts as IGT’s “eyes and ears on the ground,” and was hired for his knowledge of the state’s business environment, not for his connection to a politician.
Goldberg, through a spokeswoman, said she is friendly with Keohan and they touch base occasionally on personal matters, but Keohan “does not speak to the treasurer or her staff about his clients or their issues. Furthermore, he is not in contact with anyone at the lottery, that we know of.”
Keohan declined to address questions about his interactions with Goldberg, or whether his lobbying could present a conflict of interest. He responded to questions with a statement saying, “I would never do anything that may harm [Goldberg] or put in jeopardy the incredible work she and her team are doing in the treasurer’s office. I follow every lobbying law to the letter and file all reports on time in the interest of full transparency.”
IGT seems to prize political consultants who helped elect Massachusetts state treasurers. Three weeks after former treasurer Steve Grossman took office in 2011, the company, known then as GTECH, hired Grossman’s campaign consulting firm, Northwind Strategies, led by strategist Doug Rubin, to its stable of lobbyists.
Wiczek, of IGT, said she was unaware of the timing of the company’s hires.
Grossman, who left office in January 2015, said any appearance of a conflict in government is a problem. “The perception on the part of the citizen, the voter, taxpayer that companies are profiteering unfairly through their inside relationships undermines public trust,” he said in a Globe interview.
The answer, Grossman said, is to foster aggressive competition for public contracts, and award them through a fair and transparent process.
“The fact that Doug was representing [GTECH] was of no particular consequence to me; they got no special leg up,” Grossman said. “I realize the perception can be otherwise, but I’ll settle for the facts.”
Rubin said his work for GTECH/IGT has never focused on meeting with public officials. “I have always tried to go overboard to make sure anything I did wouldn’t reflect poorly,” he said.
Rubin’s firm continues to work for IGT. Northwind has been paid $693,000 by the company since 2011, lobbying records show.
Guarino, another politically connected consultant and lobbyist, is described on the website of his firm, Melwood Global, as “the first person working on the 2014 campaign for Attorney General by Maura Healey” and as someone who “remains the top political advisor to Healey.”
Line can be blurred
In one March 2015 e-mail Guarino sent to a White House official with the subject “follow up from MA AG Healey,” Guarino referred to her administration as “our office” and outlined elements of Healey’s agenda in which he used the word “we” 11 times.
At the same time, Guarino continued advocating for his longtime clients such as Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, which paid him $396,000 from 2010 to 2015 for public relations and lobbying, according to the association. E-mails from February 2015 show Guarino helping to facilitate a meeting between Healey and the association’s president and chief executive officer, Lora M. Pellegrini.
E-mails show that Guarino asked the attorney general’s employees if they would attend one of the association’s health policy forums, and lobbying records indicate three top staffers registered for the event, including a senior health care policy adviser. A spokeswoman for the attorney general said two of the staffers did not actually attend the forum, despite registration records.
In another e-mail exchange, Guarino pushed to have Healey’s voice added to a press release from the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans about expanding insurance coverage to include methadone as a treatment for opioid addiction.
“I obviously have a conflict here so I leave it to you to decide the right course,” Guarino wrote in an e-mail Jan. 30, 2015, to the personal e-mail addresses of Healey’s top staffers. “But I think praising an effort like this makes sense.”
Disclosures suggest role
Nearly all of Guarino’s lobbying disclosures from his first five years described efforts to influence regulatory matters and specifically mentioned the attorney general’s office. After Healey took office in 2015, lobbying records show that Guarino continued discussing “regulatory matters,” but the disclosures omitted the phrase “with officials in the attorney general’s office.”
In a statement, Guarino did not address a question about the change in his lobbying disclosures. He said that his firm works in a range of industries and has relationships with clients that in many cases predate his work with Healey.
“Our clients hire us because of our decades of experience as journalists and communicators, not based on any one current or former client,” Guarino said.
A spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans noted in a statement that they had been Guarino’s client long before his involvement with Healey. Guarino’s work focuses on media strategy and press relations, the spokesman said, but he is also involved in policy discussions and has contact with the attorney general’s office.
Guarino has also represented at least two energy companies since Healey took office. The attorney general’s office describes itself as the state’s “ratepayer advocate” that “represents consumers in matters involving the price and delivery of natural gas, electricity, and telecommunication services.”
Lobbying records show that Guarino represented Vote Solar from September 2015 until June 30. The company said in an e-mail that the attorney general was not the focus of Guarino’s work and that he was hired because of his “media experience and commitment to our issue, not because of his access to anyone influencer or decision-maker.”
A spokesman for the other company, PowerOptions, said in e-mail that Guarino was hired six years ago — long before Healey took office — for communications work. Guarino did arrange for Healey to address the firm’s annual meeting in November 2014 after her election but before she took office, according to the spokesman, Liam Sullivan.
After Healey took office, Guarino sought approval from her staff for a quote from her speech to be used in PowerOptions’ quarterly newsletter. According to an e-mail, Healey had said, “I benefitted by hearing from several PowerOptions members’’ in developing policy positions.
Healey’s spokeswoman, Cyndi Roy Gonzalez, described Guarino as a “respected career communicator” and “volunteer adviser” who “does not advocate on policy matters before the AG’s office on behalf of his clients.” “Dave has not lobbied our office,” Roy Gonzalez said.