Taxpayers pony up for Hassan security

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. makes opening remarks to professionals from health care, law enforcement, education and others Tuesday May 10, 2016 in Manchester, N.H. during the opening of the governor's summit on substance misuse. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan talks to panelists prior to the start of a meeting of the Education and Workforce Committee at the National Governors Association Summer meeting at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., Saturday, July 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Steve Helber

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2016 12:00:58 AM

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan says she isn’t using taxpayer money to finance campaign trips she makes across the country in her bid for U.S. Senate.

But records show Hassan’s state-funded security detail is racking up thousands of dollars in salary and overtime costs while accompanying her to political events, and the campaign is not picking up that tab.

State police Sgt. Scott Frye and Trooper Sherry Vestal are assigned to the Executive Security Unit that guards Hassan around-the-clock, on official business and the campaign trail.

While Hassan’s U.S. Senate campaign says it pays directly for the troopers’ flights, accommodations and other travel costs during political trips, New Hampshire taxpayers are on the hook for their pay and overtime.

In the 44 days Hassan said she campaigned out of state between February 2015 and March 2016, Frye and Vestal made a combined $42,000, including overtime pay, according to the Department of Safety.

But citing privacy and security concerns, the department declined to release the troopers’ hourly time logs, making it impossible to calculate exactly how much the state has paid Frye and Vestal to guard Hassan while she campaigns outside New Hampshire.

Spokesman Aaron Jacobs said the campaign “goes above and beyond” state and federal election requirements by paying campaign travel expenses for the troopers that guard Hassan. The detail covers Hassan no matter where she is or what she’s doing, he said.

“The Department of Safety pays troopers overtime and salary under the terms of collective bargaining whenever it determines that the Governor needs security,” he said in a statement.

Hassan is challenging incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte in one of the most competitive U.S. Senate contests in the country. Out-of-state campaign travel has emerged as a contentious issue as Republicans hammer Hassan for leaving New Hampshire during the ongoing legislative session. Hassan’s campaign has countered that the governor still conducted official business on days when she also traveled out of New Hampshire for political trips.

On the 44 days Hassan spent time campaigning out of state, Frye worked 506.5 hours and made $26,522, including overtime pay, according to the Department of Safety. Vestal logged 365 hours and earned $15,590 in all, including overtime.

The department declined to release the troopers’ hourly pay logs because that “would constitute a potential threat to the physical security of the Governor and members of the ESU,” by making coverage times more predictable, department legal counsel David Hilts said.

Frye and Vestal were the top two overtime earners at the Department of Safety in 2014 and among the department’s top paid employees. Frye earned $125,918, including $39,100 in overtime that year, and Vestal earned $104,727 in 2014, including $33,700, according to the state’s most recent public salary records. By comparison, Hassan was paid $110,719 in 2014.

The Department of Safety makes all decisions surrounding Hassan’s security detail separately from her office or her political campaign, said Safety Commissioner John Barthelmes.

Since early 2015, Hassan’s campaign has sent a letter each month that details when and where she has made political trips, campaigned or attended fundraisers outside the state.

Each letter says that no state funds were used for Hassan’s travel. Jacobs said the campaign does not count overtime and salary as travel costs.

The trooper pay records requested by the Monitor only run through March, and Hassan campaigned out of state 12 days in April. With more than five months to go before the election, the financial arrangement will continue with the campaign paying for the security detail’s travel costs on political trips, and the state paying for the troopers’ salary and overtime.

Other governors

Jacobs said Hassan’s campaign exceeds other governors’ practices by paying the detail’s travel expenses.

Republican governors who ran for president, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Ohio’s John Kasich, were criticized this year for having taxpayers foot the bill for their security units’ travel costs.

New Jersey residents paid at least $614,000 last year to support out-of-state travel for Christie’s state police security detail while he ran for president, according to a March article on NJ.com. That sum doesn’t include overtime costs.

The Associated Press reported ithat out-of-state travel spending for Kasich’s state security detail ran more than $350,000 during this fiscal year, up from $17,000 during his first year in office.

Records request

The Monitor attempted to verify that no taxpayer money was being used to fund the troopers’ travel expenses on campaign trips by requesting records of all of the security detail’s state travel reimbursements over the last two years.

The Department of Safety provided 133 pages of information that were heavily redacted. Everything from rental car makes and models to flight details was blacked out.

The visible records show the state does not pay for Frye and Vestal’s travel costs on Hassan’s purely political trips.

Thirty pages of records were blacked out entirely, and the department declined to describe or characterize the information hidden from public view, saying state law does not compel them to do so.

“Although these redactions may not seem intuitive to individuals who are not law enforcement or security personnel, the Department carefully reviewed the documents and identified legitimate safety concerns with respect to the redacted information,” Hilts wrote in a letter to the Monitor. The information reveals “travel preferences and patterns” of the governor and the Executive Security Unit, that make their movements more predictable, he said.

The records also show that Hassan’s campaign began reimbursing the state last October for miles she traveled in a government vehicle to campaign-related events. Her campaign paid the state more than $3,000 for mileage costs between October and December last year.

In at least one case, Hassan combined official state business with campaign events and for that trip, the state picked up the tab for security travel costs.

In July 2015, Hassan traveled to West Virginia for the National Governors Association meeting and while there, also held events with the Democratic Governors Association, according to her campaign. Frye guarded Hassan on the trip and requested $1,557 in state reimbursements for flights, hotels and meals, department records show. As is customary, the state paid for his time.

While Republicans are criticizing Hassan now for campaigning outside New Hampshire, it’s not likely the issue will catch on with voters, unless Hassan is visibly gone during a major event, according to University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala.

“It doesn’t have as much leverage as a campaign issue, as it would have perhaps in other states where the governor has a more powerful position,” he said. “Voters sometimes just chalk (the attacks) up to politicians’ typical behavior.”




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