Letters: Selective ethics is unethical

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Murray Credit Amanda Bouldin
NH State Rep. Alissandra Murray

Screenshot 2016 06 12 at 9.02.24 PM


To the Editor:

Last month, the Legislative Ethics Committee produced an advisory report regarding the employment of Rep. Alissandra Murray (D-Manchester). Due to Murray’s employment with Reproductive Freedom Fund NH, and the fact that RFFNH registered a lobbyist with the NH Secretary of State, the Committee directed Murray to recuse themself from any vote on which RFFNH has lobbied, fully restraining Murray’s ability to represent their constituents on abortion funding issues.

As part of their advisory, the Committee also directed Murray to file a conflict of interest form on any legislation related to abortion funding. Interestingly, this form (called a Declaration of Intent) gives the lawmaker two options: when declaring a conflict of interest, the lawmaker retains the right to vote on the matter, or they can optionally recuse. But in Murray’s case, the Committee directed them to recuse in all cases.

It should be noted that Rep. Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford) filed some 65 separate conflicts of interest in 2023 alone, and on every single form, indicated that she would not recuse despite the admitted financial interest. Some of the bills she identified as potential conflict of interest even landed in the Ways and Means Committee, for which Sanborn acts as Chair.

Sanborn’s admitted conflicts of interest related to subjects ranging from boating and hunting to liquor laws, tipped worker wages, and even casino and gaming laws. Last year Sanborn resigned from her position on a gaming commission after her husband, a former lawmaker, was caught up in controversy over the use of government funds. Despite all of this, Sanborn did not recuse on a single piece of 2023 legislation. In considering Sanborn’s experience versus that of Murray, the contrast is quite stark.

Furthermore, Murray is hardly the only lawmaker whose employer has sent a lobbyist to Concord. Many NH lawmakers are employed by, or hold stock in, companies such as BAE, Pfizer, Verizon, Fidelity Investments, Uber, CVS, Comcast, Walmart, and Bank of America — and all have registered lobbyists with the NH Secretary of State. In 2023, none of the lawmakers associated with these companies filed conflict of interest declarations related to these interests.

Rep. J.R. Hoell (R-Bow and Dunbarton) declared in his mandatory financial disclosure that he is employed by Fresenius, a company that late last year was subject to a whistleblower complaint alleging a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid. Hoell’s employer has three lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office. No conflict of interest form has been filed by the representative. As NH does not offer any type of lobbyist reporting system, it’s unclear how lawmakers such as Murray and Hoell should be able to identify which legislation their employer’s lobbyist has interacted with.

Rep. Tony Lekas (R-Hudson) is a landlord, per his financial disclosure. This year, he filed legislation altering the calculation for refunds of property taxes. (HB1040) He also cosponsored legislation related to zoning of rental properties. (HB1281) While Rep. Lekas has also failed to file a conflict of interest, it’s unclear how a lawmaker would even proceed when their very own legislation may present the ethical conflict.

Reps. Linda Gould (R-Bedford) and David Love (R-Derry) are publicly listed as Trustees of the NH Right to Life Committee. An anti-abortion lobbying group, the stated purpose of this committee is to “influence legislation, by testimony at public hearings, by meeting with legislators, and by influencing public opinion.” Per their bylaws, these two sitting lawmakers have supervision of this lobbying group. Despite their interests in an anti-abortion organization, both Gould and Love cosponsored legislation related to abortion data collection and audits of abortion providers. (HB582, HB615) It’s quite strange indeed that Gould and Love freely sponsor legislation to pursue the goals of the organization they run while Murray is prevented from voting at all. I will not go so far as to insinuate that the Legislative Ethics Committee is biased or partisan, but I do believe their opinion was in error.

It’s clear to me that so many of those serving in the legislature are good and decent people doing their very best to operate within ethical standards. In naming my colleagues here, it is not my goal to malign them but to highlight the need for equal treatment within the legislature. That Rep. Murray was swept up in an ethics investigation suggests a reliance on “gotcha” political games rather than actual accountability. It seems virtually impossible for a citizen legislature to avoid conflicts of interest, and most will understand that all lawmakers — whether employed or retired — will eventually benefit from some piece of legislation. Property tax rates, education funding, and criminal justice reform are just a few of the many issues that touch all of our lives in some way. It is critical to extend grace and assume the best of any lawmaker before alleging impropriety, especially in a citizen legislature such as ours.

IMG 7650Amanda Bouldin
Manchester

 

 

 

 

About this Author

Amanda Bouldin

Amanda Bouldin lives in Manchester and represents Hillsborough District 12 as a NH State Rep. She is founder and president of Shire Sharing, a nonprofit organization that provides Thanksgiving meals to needy families in the Granite State.