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Capital Beat

Risk pool hires powerful lobbyist

Bragdon conflict concerns highlighted

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.<br/> <br/>(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

Senate President Peter Bragdon spoke to the editorial board on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

(Neil Blake/Monitor Staff)

A prominent state lobbyist filed this week to represent the controversial public risk pool run by state Sen. Peter Bragdon, a development that highlights the challenges Bragdon now faces in avoiding conflicts of interest – or the appearance of them – in his new job.

Bragdon, a Milford Republican, resigned as Senate president but kept his seat last August after he was named executive director of the Local Government Center, then in the center of legal proceedings for withholding $33 million from local communities it insured. Critics and the Bureau of Securities Regulation, the LGC’s regulator, said Bragdon’s role as Senate president created a conflict given the LGC’s interests before the Legislature. The LGC was later split into HealthTrust, where Bragdon is now the executive director, and Property-Liability Trust.

The Legislative Ethics Committee has been investigating a complaint from Rep. Rick Watrous, a Concord Democrat, alleging Bragdon violated state law and ethics rules when he accepted the executive director job with the LGC. The committee will report those findings Monday and decide whether to open a formal investigation.

James Bianco and two members of his firm, Bianco Professional Association, have signed a contract with HealthTrust for up to $60,000 in lobbying work on legislation affecting public risk pools. Bragdon has repeatedly said that he will recuse himself on any Senate votes related to risk pools, and Bianco’s contract with HealthTrust says he will not report to Bragdon. Instead, he was hired by and will communicate with David Frydman, HealthTrust’s general counsel, and Peter Curro, chairman of the board of directors. HealthTrust’s bylaws say both the executive director and the board have the authority to hire and manage consultants.

Draft minutes from a Jan. 10 HealthTrust Board of Directors meeting show Bragdon left when discussions on legislation and hiring Bianco began. Bianco’s contract says, in part, “I understand that Peter Bragdon cannot and will not be involved in or be a party to the engagement of our firm as he has recused himself from any such involvement,” according to the minutes.

“There’s kind of a Chinese wall . . . between any of the legislative activity and Peter Bragdon,” Frydman said this week.

In an interview, Bragdon said he will not be involved in discussing legislation unless the board asks for specifics on what it would take to comply with a regulation.

“If there was a bill that said certain things had to happen and (the board) asked operationally what does that mean, obviously I could supply information about how the company or organization operates,” Bragdon said. “But in terms of the legislative process and any strategizing about how to help something pass or not pass or who to talk to, I would not be involved.”

Bragdon said his No. 1 duty as executive director is to carry out policies and objectives of the board, and he said he does not feel his inability to weigh in on legislation affects his effectiveness. Members of the board of directors are qualified in various areas and have their own interactions with legislators over specific issues.

On the ethics committee’s investigation into complaints against him, Bragdon said the record is clear that he was not hired so he could help the organization with legislative matters. There is, he said, “no evidence to hold up that complaint, and evidence works against it.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated HealthTrust is undergoing debt refinancing. It is not undergoing debt refinancing.

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