The sons of the state Senate’s two top leaders are both registered lobbyists for the same firm that lobbies on behalf of some of the state’s largest corporations, records show.
Mike Ward, the son of Majority Leader Kim Ward, and Anthony Costa, the son of Minority Leader Jay Costa, are both Pittsburgh-based lobbyists for lobbying firm Cameron Companies.
Cameron Companies was established in 2007 and has employed the sons since at least 2019. Anthony Costa filed as a lobbyist in January 2021, but began lobbying in January 2020, according to his filing.
Cameron Companies’ dozens of clients include health care companies like Independence Blue Cross, massive corporations like 3M Companies, business associations like the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, the snack delivery company goPuff and Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. In 2020, the lobbying firm spent $274,948 wining and dining Pennsylvania’s lawmakers on behalf of its clients, according to its Department of State filings.
Given Ward’s and Costa’s direct relationships to the top Republican and Democrat in the Senate, respectively, the sons’ clients could get special treatment across the Legislature and a leg-up in getting their legislative priorities across the finish line, said Khalif Ali, the executive director of good-government nonprofit Common Cause PA.
Mike Ward has lobbied since 2013, previously for Novak Strategic Advisors. He also lobbies through his own firm, Catalyst Strategic Solutions, which says it represents some of the same clients he lobbies for at Cameron Companies. Though his lobbying filing shows he’s led his one-man lobbying firm since 2014, he lists $0 of expenses since its inception.
Mike Ward said he “takes pains” to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest in his lobbying work and does not communicate with his mother’s office, but he did not elaborate on what work he does to avoid this.
“I could never have imagined my mom would become the first female Republican Majority Leader,” Mike Ward said. “I love her and am so proud of her and would never allow my business to interfere with her service to our commonwealth.”
Kim Ward became the state’s first female Senate majority leader in November 2020. Jay Costa has led the Senate Democrats since 2010.
Following the rules
In response to questions about whether she speaks with her son about legislative matters and if it’s possible to avoid conflicts of interest, Kim Ward said in a text message, “I follow all guidelines and protocols set by the PA Ethics Commission in order to ensure there is never an overlap of interest.”
Anthony Costa has only been lobbying since 2020 and did not register until January 2021. His filing does not list any of his clients, or list any of his contact information, which is required. He has worked at Cameron Companies since 2018, after a short stint as a special assistant to former Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, according to Costa’s LinkedIn profile.
Anthony Costa “will not be lobbying the Senate of Pennsylvania,” Minority Leader Jay Costa said in a statement to LNP | LancasterOnline. He also said his son’s lobbying work is typically limited to Pittsburgh and Allegheny County issues.
Jay Costa’s office did not provide contact information for his son, but requested that a reporter send questions that would then be passed on to Anthony Costa. Additionally, Sen. Costa’s spokesperson Brittany Crampsie, did not answer when asked why much of the required information was missing from Anthony Costa’s lobbyist filing.
Anthony Costa did not respond to several messages sent to his LinkedIn profile.
“We will avoid even the appearance of a conflict, and will adhere to all applicable Senate rules,” Jay Costa said. “In the case of potential conflicts for senators and prior to a vote, a senator would seek a ruling from the chair of the body, who determines whether a conflict exists and whether the member can vote.”
Abstentions from votes are rare, a 2017 Caucus investigation found. One glaring example is a 2013 vote by former Republican Sen. Chuck McIlhinney of Bucks County, whose mother was nominated to a seat on the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. McIlhinney told then-Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley -- a fellow Bucks Countian -- of the conflict, to which Cawley replied there was no conflict and McIlhinney must vote on the nomination.
“The chair does not find that ... the vote you are about to cast would be particularly personal to you or privately affect you alone or that you would derive a direct pecuniary interest from such a vote,” Cawley said at the time.
It’s not uncommon for family members to work as lobbyists. Former House Speaker Bill DeWeese’s now ex-wife Holly Kinser lobbied the General Assembly on behalf of the City of Philadelphia.
But it’s much more rare to have children of lawmakers lobbying the Legislature, particularly the children of influential legislators who have a hand in nearly every piece of legislation that reaches the floor.
“They’re not minor figures in the General Assembly, they’re major figures in the General Assembly,” Ali said of Sens. Ward and Costa. “My assumption is that when their children are lobbyists, there will be more ears that will be listening than will be for the average lobbyist with a typical firm.”
Common Cause PA’s employees register as lobbyists, Ali noted, making the point that he and other lobbyists wouldn’t enjoy the same access to lawmakers. He also said it’s possible Mike Ward and Anthony Costa would be privy to confidential information about government decisions because of their relationships with their parents.
“Nationally, during a time where there’s waning confidence in our democracy, decisions made by lawmakers and elected officials as well as political parties -- everything that we need to be doing now has to be about rebuilding and shoring up the confidence in our democracy,” Ali added.
Since Kim Ward rose to lead the Senate’s GOP majority, Mike Ward has gained at least one new client -- Pennsylvania American Water, which contracted with him in January through his personal lobbying firm, Catalyst Strategic Solutions.
A spokesperson for Pennsylvania American Water said the company does not provide details about its consultants beyond what it is required to file with the Department of State. The company did not address questions about what work Mike Ward is on its behalf or whether his mother’s leadership position motivated their decision to hire him.
At least two of Cameron Companies’ clients said they worked almost exclusively with Bob Taylor, the lead lobbyist at the firm. Mike Miller, the executive director of the Williamsport Municipal Water and Sanitary authorities, said Cameron Companies was hired for the 2020 calendar year with Taylor as the main contact.
Zach Shamberg, the president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said PHCA contracted with Cameron Companies and Taylor “long before” he joined the long term-care association in 2014. He was aware that Anthony Costa and Mike Ward both worked for Cameron Companies, but said the organization has never requested special treatment from the top Senate leaders.
“We’ve worked primarily with Bob Taylor and we do much of the advocacy work, telling our members to reach out to their representatives. We never really equated the two because we don’t work with Anthony or Mike,” Shamberg added.
“Bob has been a close ally of ours,” he said. “I’ll stick with Bob until he decides to retire.”
Taylor did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Ideally, family members would be entirely out of politics, Ali said. If not, family members should be working in different levels of government -- for example, if a lawmaker is in the General Assembly, a family member should work in local or federal government.
“Everything that happens that doesn’t violate a law specifically doesn’t mean that it’s right,” Ali said. “If we just have a higher standard of ethical reasoning and decisions that elected officials and family abide by … then we begin to live in a democracy that instills confidence in people and doesn’t eat away in the integrity of our democracy.”