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Bragdon to be Investigated for Ethics Violation

Concord state Rep. Rick Watrous files complaint claiming former Senate President used public office to land gig.

State Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford. Credit: Carolyn Dube
State Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford. Credit: Carolyn Dube

The state’s Legislative Ethics Committee will look into whether former state Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, used his public office to land the position of executive director at the Local Government Center, according to WMUR-TV and the Associated Press.

Bragdon was hired to lead the embattled organization in August and then later, after political pressures arose from both sides of the aisle, stepped down from the presidency. Chuck Morse took over as Senate President on Sept. 3.

Bragdon has denied any conflict in getting the $180,000 a year job and has said he would recuse himself from any potential votes that might lead be in conflict. Watrous, however, requested the committee look into whether or not Bragdon violated ethics rules before being hired in the first place, and the committee voted to investigate the issue on Oct. 28.

In a statement, Bragdon said he was “confident" that he "followed the pertinent laws in this matter,” adding that any legislator can file a complaint against another legislator.

“The record will clearly show that I was hired to provide organizational leadership to HealthTrust, Inc. and not to try to influence legislation,” Bragdon said in an email. “I have stated numerous times that I will recuse myself from any legislation related to RSA 5-B risk pools, and it is well documented that the matter was made clear to my employer prior to my hiring.”

Watrous filed the complaint on Oct. 1. He said he filed the complaint because he believed it was inappropriate for corporations to be able to hire state senators to assist them with dealings with the state.

“I’m glad that the ethics committee has taken up the complaint because it appears as if state ethics laws and guidelines have been violated,” Watrous said.

The Legislative Ethics Committee will file a series of questions to Bragdon about the issue. He has until Nov. 12, to respond to the complaint.

In the past, Watrous has filed other complaints against public officials about potential conflicts of interest, mostly at the city level.

In 2012, he filed complaints with the Board of Ethics about Concord Mayor Jim Bouley and At-Large Councilor Dan St. Hilaire for failing to disclose potential conflicts in their handling of the complaint against City Councilor and state Rep. Dick Patten, D-Concord, involving a traffic ticket received by a friend. The Board of Ethics dismissed the complaints. Watrous has also called on Bouley to recuse himself of dealings with Steve Duprey, a prominent Concord developer who was leasing office space to Bouley’s lobbying firm.

In 2011, Watrous filed complaints against School Board President Kass Ardinger and then-board member Jack Dunn who were involved in campaigning against a charter commission’s recommendations to change the way school board members were elected. The complaint resulted Dunn being cited by the attorney general. Dunn was later hired to be the business administrator for the school district.

Watrous also filed complaints against Concord school officials in 2009, after it was revealed that they secretly met with state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, to change legislation that was approved by the House that he co-authored. The legislation would have allowed residents to vote on school bonding projects greater than $5 million as well as other reform provisions. The inquiry led to John Teague, of Upton & Hatfield, a school district attorney, being cited in 2010 by the attorney general for a lobbying violation.

The full complaint that Watrous filed is below: 

COMPLAINT 

By accepting the position of Executive Director of the Local Government Center (LGC), while maintaining his Senate seat, Senator Peter Bragdon violated Legislative Ethics Guidelines and RSA 15-B. 

Bragdon should not have used his public office to attain the job’s considerable personal benefits. Accepting such a thing of value from an organization with so much financial and legal business before the State is prohibited by the Ethics Guidelines and RSA 15-B. 

As long as Bragdon maintains both his Senate seat and his position as LGC Executive Director, Bragdon will violate the Ethics Guidelines’ Principal of Public Service by having conflicts of interests and real and apparent improper influences. Whenever any state business with the LGC (now HealthTrust, Inc.) occurs, citizens may rightfully wonder: is Bragdon acting for the public interest or for the interest of the LGC? Is Bragdon using his position in the Senate to advance the goals of the LGC?

Already, while under consideration for the LGC position and in discussion with LGC interim Executive Director George Bald, Sen. Bragdon appointed Sen. Jeanie Forrester to the Committee to Review the Hearings Officer’s Report with Regard to the New Hampshire Local Government Center. Despite being engaged in hiring discussions with the LGC, Bragdon did not disclose that conflict and appointed Forrester to a Committee that directly concerns the finances of the LGC. Such action is prohibited by the Ethics Guidelines.

In particular, Sen. Bragdon violated the following principles, rules and laws: 

ETHICS GUIDELINES

1 PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC SERVICE.

I. Public Office As A Public Trust

Legislators should treat their office as a public trust, only using the powers and resources of public office to advance public interests, and not to attain personal benefits or pursue any other private interest incompatible with the public good.

II. Principle Of Independent Objective Judgment

Legislators should employ independent objective judgment in performing their duties, deciding all matters on the merits free from conflicts of interest and both real and apparent improper influences. 

4 PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES.

I. Legislators shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept anything of value from another for themselves or other persons, if the legislator receives such thing of value:

(a) Knowing or believing the other's purpose to be the influencing of an action, decision, opinion, recommendation, or other official activity.

(b) Knowing or believing that the giver is or is likely to become subject to or interested in any matter or action pending before or contemplated by the legislator or the General Court.

(c) In return for advice or other assistance relating to a legislator's official activities.

(d) In return for introducing legislation, testifying before any legislative committee or state agency, voting in committee or in House or Senate session, or otherwise participating in, influencing, or attempting to influence any decision of the legislature, county delegation or any state agency.

(e) In return for an endorsement, nomination, appointment, approval or disapproval of any person for a position as, or advancement of, a public servant.

(f) In return for having given a decision, opinion, recommendation, nomination, vote, or other official activity.

(g) In violation of RSA 15-B.

III. Legislators shall not use their public position or office to obtain anything of value for the private benefit of the legislator or the legislator's immediate family. 

RSA 15-B:3 Prohibition on Gifts.    

    I. It shall be unlawful to knowingly give any gift as defined in this chapter, directly or indirectly, to any elected official, public official, public employee, constitutional official, or legislative employee. 
    II. It shall be unlawful to knowingly give any gift as defined in this chapter, directly or indirectly, to any family member, as defined in this chapter, of any elected official, public official, public employee, constitutional official, or legislative employee, with a purpose of influencing or affecting the official conduct of such official or employee. 
    III. No elected official, public official, public employee, constitutional official, or legislative employee shall knowingly accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, as defined in this chapter. 

STATEMENT OF FACTS

RSA 15-B:2 V.(a) defines “Gift” as:
          (1) Money in any amount, whether in the form of cash, check or any other negotiable or non-negotiable instrumentality for the transfer of money. 
          (2) Any other tangible thing, intangible thing, service, or the use thereof having more than insignificant economic value. Any such item with a value of less than $25 is presumed to be of insignificant economic value.
  

The wages, salary and benefits that Sen. Bragdon receives from the Local Government Center constitute such a prohibited gift. Although RSA 15-B contains an exemption for employment “which is unrelated to the government position held,” in this instance the employment is related to the government position held. The LGC wanted a political insider to attain a resolution of its legal issues with the State, so they hired a powerful state senator. Bragdon knew that the LGC’s purpose in hiring him was to influence official activity of the State in regard to the LGC. In violation of the Ethical Guidelines and RSA 15-B:3, III he accepted the job. If the LGC acted knowingly, they violated RSA 15-B:3, I  by giving such a prohibited gift to Senator Bragdon.

Sen. Bragdon never sought an advisory opinion from the Ethics Committee before accepting the Executive Director position. It should be noted that in 2011 Sen. Bragdon did seek an advisory opinion before accepting a dinner valued at $110. But in this instance, Bragdon did not seek an advisory opinion concerning accepting an $180,000 job with an organization that has considerable business with the State.

Emails and documents (see attached) attained from the LGC contain the following pertinent information:

On July 11, 2013—the day the Executive Director position was first discussed between Bragdon and LGC Interim Executive Director George Bald—Bragdon sends his resume, the first half page of which concerns his Senate experience. Bald responds positively and asks Bragdon to consider the position because “…a steady, thoughtful hand, by someone who also understands all the political ramification, would be a real plus for the LGC members and the State.”

July 12: Bald emails Bragdon that he had met with the LGC Board Chairs to discuss Bragdon and the position. Bald reports that they were happy that “a person of your responsibilities” would consider working for the LGC. Concerns were raised about “…conflicts of interest, i.e. NHMA does advocacy before the legislature. Also, the State is in litigation with us….something I didn’t think of.”

July 16: Bragdon emails Bald that he had “spoke with Jay Flanders specifically about the LGC and me,” and that “Jay’s opinion matched mine, that the issues of lawsuits and advocacy do not have much traction as long as there is disclosure and/or proper recusal if a particular vote creates a financial conflict.”

Bragdon also writes of Sen. Jeanie Forrester: “I happened to be on the phone with Sen. Forrester a few minutes ago, and given her background as a former town administrator, as well as having worked with people like Don Jutton at Municipal Resources, Inc., I thought I’d mentioned the conversation you and I had. Her reaction could not have been more positive to the idea.” 

July 19: Bragdon appoints Sen. Forrester as the sole senate appointee to the Committee to Review the Hearings Officer’s Report with Regard to the New Hampshire Local Government Center.

July 25: Bragdon meets with the LGC Board to discuss the job.

Aug. 9: Bragdon emails Bald about another upcoming meeting with the LGC board, anticipating that their questions will “revolve around the same issues as before—potential conflicts or perceived conflict.”

Aug. 12: Bald emails Bragdon: “Thanks for taking on this task. I am sure you will find the Team wonderful to deal with. Hopefully, you can get to a resolution of the legal issues and allow the Team to move forward.”

Aug. 13: Bragdon signs a contract accepting the $180,000 full-time position as Executive Director of the LGC. The LGC puts out a press release, proclaiming: “Senate President Peter Bragdon, New Hampshire State Senator from Milford will join the LGC as its new Executive Director.”

On Aug. 16—following much public criticism over his being hired by an organization involved with many legal and financial matters before the State—Bragdon announces he will step down as Senate President but will continue as State Senator as he works as CEO of the LGC.

Conflicts of interest and the violations of State laws and ethics rules remain.

--Rep. Rick Watrous

 ATTACHMENTS

  1. Advisory Opinion 2011-3
  2. July 11 Bald/Bragdon email, Bragdon resume
  3. July 12 Bald/Bragdon email
  4. July 16 Bald/Bragdon email
  5. July 19 Bragdon’s appointment of Senator Forrester to Committee to Review the Hearings Officer’s Report with Regard to the New Hampshire Local Government Center
  6. Aug. 9 Bald/Bragdon email
  7. Aug. 12 Bald/Bragdon email, press release and possible Q&A answers
  8. Aug. 12 Bragdon/Bald email
  9. Aug. 13 signed contract between Bragdon and LGC


Douglas Jones October 31, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Tony thanks for posting and bringing this matter into clearer a light. Any public official that's elected should be accountable for their actions and be held to the letter of the law. Which makes me wonder why no one is holding President Obama accountable for him lying to the American public, in that we can keep our own medical plan if we want to, under OBAMA CARE. Just saying!

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