After sexual misconduct allegations were leveled against his husband late last year, Senate President Stan Rosenberg reassured his colleagues about a key concern: His husband, Bryon Hefner, had no influence on Senate business.
But according to interviews with those who dealt with Hefner, and communications reviewed by the Globe, Hefner was deeply involved in matters that Rosenberg had vowed to bar him from when he ascended to the presidency in 2015. They reveal that Hefner had full access to Rosenberg’s e-mails, attempted to affect the state budget, and involved himself in the workings of his husband’s office, as well as in Senate affairs.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the workings of Rosenberg’s office, the Senate president himself directed that Hefner be given the ability to access his Senate e-mail account, his contacts, and his calendar. A second person said Hefner was open about that access.
“He would boast about it, to show his power and influence over the operations of the Senate, and more importantly, over the Senate president,” said this person, who works on Beacon Hill. Like others quoted in this story, he requested anonymity out of fear of reprisals from Rosenberg or his allies in the Senate.
Rosenberg, who temporarily stepped aside from the presidency in late November, declined to comment Thursday on these new assertions describing Hefner’s active role and influence.
“Out of respect for and deference to the ethics committee investigation, we are not going to comment until the investigation is complete,” said Mara Dolan, Rosenberg’s communications director. Attempts to reach Hefner were unsuccessful. His attorney was out of the country and said she could not comment.
Rosenberg gave up his post after the Globe reported the allegations of four men who said Hefner assaulted and harassed them, and — as part of his misconduct — implied he could use his influence with Rosenberg to affect Senate business.
The FBI, Attorney General Maura Healey, and the Suffolk district attorney are looking into the allegations. Additionally, independent investigators appointed by the Senate Ethics Committee are looking into whether Rosenberg violated Senate rules in connection with Hefner’s misconduct.
In a statement at the time, Rosenberg said he was “confident that the investigation will find that Bryon had no influence on the workings of the Senate.” He said he would step down for the duration of their inquiry. He has also confirmed that he and Hefner, who he said had entered a treatment program for alcohol dependency, are separated.
The question of Hefner’s influence was first raised in 2014, after controversy erupted over his involvement in State House matters. Back then, Rosenberg told the Globe he had made it clear to his then-fiance that he was not to be involved in any Senate business. He sent a letter to Democratic senators, writing: “I have enforced a firewall between my private life and the business of the Senate, and will continue to do so.”
For that reason and others, Rosenberg staffers were wary of his request that Hefner be able to view all of his incoming and outgoing messages, according to the person with direct knowledge of the workings of the office. The Globe has viewed communications showing staff complied with his wishes.
In a statement, Senate President Harriette Chandler, who took over when Rosenberg stepped aside, said allegations that Hefner had access to Rosenberg’s e-mail “are deeply concerning to me.”
“If true, they would appear to me to be a clear disregard of the firewall, and a violation of the standards all members are held to,” she said. “The serious nature of these allegations is why it is critical that the investigation be completed in as thorough a manner as possible.”
According to the Senate employee handbook, the first page of which bears Rosenberg’s signature, the “sharing of Legislative account credentials is strictly prohibited. Further, each user is accountable for any action that takes place under their account.”
Giving Hefner access to his husband’s e-mail could also run afoul of state law.
“If that is correct, it certainly raises very strong questions about whether giving that access to Hefner is a violation of ethics laws,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a political watchdog group. It would be a violation of the law to disclose information that is sensitive — such as policy deliberations, or private information shared by constituents — and exempt from the public records law, with anyone other than a state employee, she said. And giving Hefner “wholesale access to [Rosenberg’s] e-mail account” would likely constitute such a disclosure.
It also “goes against the assertion that there was a firewall,” Wilmot added. “You can’t have a firewall when you have unfettered access to Senate business through the e-mail of the Senate president.”
Hefner also attempted to affect Senate business, and succeeded in at least one case, according to several Senate staffers. During budget deliberations in the spring of 2017, he personally asked two staffers to persuade their bosses to support an earmark that funded a program at the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, where he was employed as the special assistant to the organization’s president. The amendment provided $500,000 to expand a detention diversion advocacy program coordinated by the nonprofit. The program keeps at-risk juveniles in their communities and schools, and out of detention facilities.
The RFK Children’s Action Corps had its own lobbyist, who was also arguing for the earmark. One senator cosponsored the amendment only because of Hefner’s direct appeal, according to two aides in the senator’s office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Whenever [Hefner] reaches in, it’s the Senate president reaching in,” said one of the aides. “It’s common knowledge he has Stan’s ear, so senators and staff have to do what it takes to manage him. They play ball on something less important, so that he doesn’t negatively impact something we do care about.”
A member of another senator’s staff said Hefner called his office looking for support for the same amendment. This staffer asked if the request was coming from Hefner or from the Senate president. He said Hefner told him Rosenberg wanted the earmark.
The amendment ultimately found plenty of support, and was added to the budget. Afterward, Hefner sent thank-you messages to one of the aides, and to a third senator, for cosponsoring it.
Fourteen months after he joined the nonprofit, Hefner resigned, effective June 28, 2017. In July, as the budget process wore on, Hefner turned around and lobbied to block the same line-item he had previously worked to secure, according to a top Beacon Hill official familiar with his efforts. A Senate staffer also said Hefner boasted about his attempts to kill the earmark. Those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the funding survived.
Hefner’s role at the RFK Children’s Action Corps was purely administrative, said president Alan Klein, who did not know Hefner had lobbied on the program — known as DDAP — until the Globe informed him last week.
“He did not have permission to do so,” Klein said in an interview. “And I was surprised again, and disappointed . . . [to learn] that he tried to kill DDAP. It is very important work. Why would anyone want to kill that?”
Communications reviewed by the Globe show that Hefner took an active interest in the workings of Rosenberg’s office, giving orders to the Senate president’s staff, and upbraiding them for what he viewed as poor performance.
When Rosenberg’s office posted on Facebook about a transportation initiative, Hefner left a comment: “Please make sure links are online before you post them.”
In a text message, he scolded one of Rosenberg’s senior aides for the error. The aide said she would have someone fix it: “Should be all set soon,” she replied.
“How many more technical difficulties and errors and tweets and what not will it take before it gets done right the first time,” Hefner shot back.
In another text exchange — which also included the Senate president — Hefner instructed a Rosenberg aide to cancel his husband’s leadership meeting.
In other communications: Hefner railed against a lobbyist who had criticized him, vowing that there would be retribution from a “furious” Rosenberg; revealed leadership assignments before they became public; recounted details of conversations between members of Rosenberg’s leadership team; urged a staffer to have a senator cut ties with a lobbyist who had fallen out of favor with Rosenberg; and boasted that he had urged Rosenberg to take away the leadership post of another senator for being too ambitious, though that senator survived his efforts.
“Leadership wants her out,” Hefner wrote. “I proposed the caucus vote on her being removed or not.”
Rosenberg and his defenders have said that Hefner’s claims were all bluster. Privately, the senator’s allies say Hefner was troubled, claimed to have power he did not possess, and that staffers ignored his attempts to control them.
But to the victims he allegedly sexually assaulted, and to others who work in Massachusetts politics, his access and proximity to the Senate president made that power distressingly real, as did his granular knowledge of Senate affairs. Victims said that made them reluctant to report his alleged assaults, for fear of ruining their relationships with Rosenberg, and their careers. Others who work in politics said Hefner’s connection with Rosenberg, of which he frequently reminded people, made it difficult to avoid dealing with him, or to resist his attempts to influence their work.
The inquiries underway are grappling with the question of whether Hefner’s threats and boasts were empty, or whether he could truly make good on them. But for his alleged victims, and others who say they feared him, that is a distinction without a difference.