Ethics committee clears Bradgon of intentional wrongdoing in taking LGC job
Former Senate president Peter Bragdon did not intentionally violate any ethics rules when he accepted a position as executive director of the Local Government Center last August, the Legislative Ethics Committee ruled yesterday.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the ethics committee has tossed this complete complaint aside, and I’m certainly relieved for that as well as a closure of the situation,” Bragdon said in an interview after the ruling.
Rep. Rick Watrous, a Concord Democrat, filed five complaints against Bragdon last year, alleging that he was hired by the LGC because of his ability to influence legislation. Bragdon resigned from his role as Senate president, but kept his seat, shortly after accepting the job. The LGC has since reorganized into HealthTrust, which Bragdon now heads, amid a legal battle that found it owed millions of dollars to local governments it insured. The ethics committee is made up of two lawyers, a public member and a senator and representative from each party.
The committee voted unanimously to dismiss three of Watrous’s complaints, saying they lacked clear evidence. Two of those complaints alleged Bragdon knew or believed the LGC hired him so that he could influence legislation dealing with risk pools and that Bragdon used his official position as Senate president to get the job. The third alleged Bragdon attempted to improve his chances of hiring by appointing Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican, to head a legislative committee tasked with re-examining the rules governing risk pools while the LGC was locked in its legal battle.
“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?” Watrous wrote in his complaint.
On the two other complaints, the ethics committee voted unanimously to enter an informal resolution process. Those two complaints alleged Bragdon knew that the LGC and HealthTrust were likely to become interested in matters before the Legislature and that his $180,000 salary is related to his position within the Senate and is therefore a prohibited gift. On both, the committee members believed “if there was a violation, then the evidence indicates it was inadvertent,” Chairman Martin Gross said.
Now the committee will work up the informal resolutions, which could range from a written admonishment to detailed recommendations. If Bragdon doesn’t consent to the resolutions, the committee could enter formal proceedings. A report detailing how the committee came to each decision will be available to the public shortly.
Bragdon said yesterday’s unanimous votes on all counts show the complaints had little merit and will likely discourage people from continuing to file complaints. He has repeatedly said he’ll recuse himself from legislative dealings related to HealthTrust and believes the informal resolutions will ask him to agree to similar conditions.
After the ruling, however, the New Hampshire Democratic Party released a statement calling Bragdon’s actions “questionable,” specifically his decision to appoint Forrester to lead a committee overseeing laws that could affect HealthTrust.
“Regardless of your party, we can all agree that Bragdon shouldn’t have given his political pal Jeanne Forrester regulatory authority overseeing his new taxpayer-funded $180,000-per-year job in the midst of interviewing for it,” party spokesman Harrell Kirstein said. “In New Hampshire, public office is a public trust, and no committee in Concord will be able to protect them from voters in November.”
In an email, Watrous said he was disappointed in the committee’s choice not to pursue a formal investigation.
“These are serious charges that should have been looked into. It’s a sad day for governmental ethics but a good day for blatant conflicts of interests,” he said.
(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3390 or email@example.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)