New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (L) speaks during his daily news conference with Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa (R) on March 20, 2020 in New York City.
Bennett Raglin | Getty Images
A firm run by the father of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closest advisor was actively lobbying members of the governor’s team earlier this year for clients as former Cuomo aides came forward with claims of sexual harassment and while the governor was under investigation by the attorney general’s office.
Giorgio DeRosa, the father of the powerful secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, is listed on lobbying disclosure reports as part of a group that actively engaged Cuomo’s staff within the executive chamber during state Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into the governor allegedly sexually harassing multiple women, records show.
The disclosure reports show Giorgio DeRosa, a leader at the influential lobbying shop Bolton-St. Johns, and his team lobbied Cuomo’s executive chamber from January through April. Melissa DeRosa’s brother, who works at the firm as well, is also listed on disclosure reports showing the group targeted the governor’s office over that same time period.
Bolton-St. Johns earned just over $80,000 from lobbying Cuomo’s team during that time, the disclosures show.
The first former Cuomo aide went public with sexual harassment allegations against the governor in December. James announced she was taking over the investigation in late February.
The attorney general report found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and violated state as well as federal laws. It also alleges that Melissa DeRosa was an architect in trying to protect the governor from the allegations. Cuomo has continued to deny wrongdoing. A new Quinnipiac poll says 7-in-10 voters think Cuomo should resign.
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Between January and February, Giorgio DeRosa was part of a team that lobbied Cuomo’s advisors on a wide range of issues for phone giant Verizon, food service company Delaware North and casino behemoth Caesars Entertainment.
The team’s recent lobbying also targeted members of the attorney general’s office for ticket company Live Nation later in the year, although those investigating Cuomo were not listed as the people who were contacted by Giorgio DeRosa and his team.
Melissa DeRosa has said she recused herself from anything related to her father and her entire family. Giorgio DeRosa has lobbied Cuomo’s team in the past.
Still, the lobbying reports show that he and his firm continued to have access to the governor’s inner circle around the start of and during a probe that highlighted his daughter’s role in allegedly attempting to shield the governor from scrutiny.
After CNBC asked questions about the recent lobbying effort by Melissa DeRosa’s father, a spokesman for Cuomo dismissed CNBC’s reporting as “nonsensical.” The spokesman reiterated that the secretary to the governor has recused herself from all matters linked to her family.
“As has been publicly disclosed for years, Melissa is proactively recused on any specific matters that members of her family are involved with and the very premise of this piece is nonsensical,” Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, said in an email to CNBC on Friday.
Azzopardi is also repeatedly mentioned in the attorney general’s report.
Among other items, the attorney general’s report shows Melissa DeRosa in March twice requested that Larry Schwartz, who was at the time Cuomo’s Covid vaccine czar, call Democratic county executives to take their pulse on whether the governor should resign in light of the allegations.
“On the call, Ms. DeRosa asked Mr. Schwartz to reach out to Democratic County Executives to ascertain their positions on whether the Governor should resign in light of the sexual harassment allegations. Mr. Schwartz testified that he agreed to make the calls because Ms. DeRosa, the Secretary to the Governor, had asked,” the report says. “Two weeks after Mr. Schwartz had made his first round of calls, Ms. DeRosa asked him to make another round of calls to the County Executives to check in on their positions. Mr. Schwartz again made these calls and reported back to Ms. DeRosa.”
Ethics experts have previously questioned Melissa DeRosa’s attempt to distance herself from her father. Susan Lerner, the executive director of watchdog Common Cause/New York, told CNBC in a phone interview on Friday that after she and her group initially called on Melissa DeRosa to be more transparent, she got a phone call from the secretary to the governor.
“She refuses to provide a list of the matters that she has recused herself from. When she was first appointed we raised this issue and she said she was going to recuse herself,” Lerner said. “We said, ‘OK, let the public know which of those clients you will not be participating in discussions with.’ She refused and called to yell at me and say I was out of line to raise these issues.”
Lerner said that there was always an appearance of ethics issues as Giorgio DeRosa lobbied the governor’s office while his daughter worked for the governor.
“It’s built into the situation, and that was obvious from the beginning,” she said. “When she was chosen there was going to be, at a minimum, an appearance of impropriety that anybody in the executive chamber who was taking a meeting with her father is very much aware of the relationship between the secretary to the governor and the lobbyist they’re meeting with. It’s certainly apparent to clients.”
Melissa DeRosa was first appointed to be secretary in 2017.
Giorgio DeRosa defended the firm and said it has always acted in line with state laws.
“Bolton-St.Johns has been ranked as a top lobbying firm in New York for over two decades. Clients hire our firm to tap into our diverse insights and policy expertise that inform effective results-oriented strategies,” he said in an email on Friday. “This topic has been extensively covered in the past by other media outlets and nothing short of impeccable compliance with state law has been consistently been reported.”
For Verizon, the lobbying of the executive chamber focused on New York state “budget items affecting Verizon services” and an “ongoing permit issue at Verizon work site,” according to the disclosure.
Over that same period of time, Giorgio DeRosa and his team lobbied Cuomo’s executive chamber along with members of the state legislature on “issues on sports betting in NYS [New York State]” for Caesars.
In April, Cuomo signed budget legislation for the 2022 fiscal year that would allow online sports betting in the Empire State. Giorgio DeRosa’s group lobbied Cuomo’s team on the same issues for Delaware North, which also owns casinos.
Giorgio DeRosa’s lobbying of the executive chamber didn’t end there. It continued until April, as he and his firm continued to lobby for Caesars on issues pertaining to sports betting.
They also got access to the executive chamber for FuelCell Energy, a Connecticut-based clean energy provider, between March and April.
At the time, Giorgio DeRosa and his firm also targeted state lawmakers for FuelCell with discussions focusing on reviewing the “definition of renewable energies in the state of New York.”