My Turn: Sununu shows hubris with inaugural cash

  • Gov. Chris Sununu takes the oath of office from Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Robert J. Lynn during his inauguration ceremony at the State House in Concord on Jan. 3. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 4/13/2019 12:15:23 AM

Gov. Chris Sununu is an amiable person – a good quality in a politician. Of late, his favorability ratings indicate a governor feeling the full measure of his office as he painstakingly navigates the never-ending political minefields of President Donald Trump.

But recent favorable polls aside, he has made a big mistake – one that will surely come back to haunt him whether he runs for a third term for governor or instead decides to go for the U.S. Senate. That mistake is hubris, and his hubris is largely what’s wrong with our political system today: special interest money buying real or perceived government influence.

The governor has amassed more than $700,000 for his two inauguration committees, i.e., the 2016 and 2018 elections. And like his Trump inauguration committee counterpart, the Sununu ones are likewise dominated by corporate interest money: energy, health care, financial companies, as well as lobbyists currying government favor. In fact, several of these special interest entities cut checks of $25,000 to his two inaugural committees.

To be fair, before Sununu New Hampshire’s gubernatorial inaugural committees followed the same practice, i.e., collect big checks from those who have reason to influence the latest inhabitant of the corner office.

But where Sununu’s unique hubris surfaces in this matter is not only the amount collected by his inaugural fundraising efforts – a record-setting number – but how the money subsequently has been used, meaning the governor, his immediate family and lobbyists have been paid several thousand dollars in so-called reimbursements from the inaugural committee accounts.

Think about this for a moment: Money – largely special interest in nature – is collected for an inauguration (ostensibly a celebration of sorts) but instead some of the funds donated to this effort are used to pay for travel and other “expenses” the governor considers allowable. Meaning, no oversight.

Inaugural celebrations began in 1789 with the election of President George Washington. Back then it was simply a festive ball. Now, as government has grown and politician egos have evolved, we now witness tuxedo-and-gown political extravaganzas with so much money left over, the “money ball” continues unabated.

It’s a hypocritical sad state of affairs – that is, paying oneself as well as friends and family money that is supposed to honor democracy.

This year, the New Hampshire Senate passed legislation limiting big donor checks to inaugural committees to $10,000. The legislation also indicates expenditures over $1,000 must be documented – meaning good riddance to the current grab-bag, unclear use of monies donated to New Hampshire gubernatorial inauguration committees.

But here’s the rub: Why a $10,000 “donation” cap as the state Senate legislation allows? And why should a politician continue to be able to pay anyone he or she wants as long as it’s disclosed? Consider this: Currently, once someone files to campaign for state office, the money limit for the primary and general election is $2,000. That amount would seem a more logical and less offensive a contribution limit for inaugural committees than, say, $10,000.

And how about any funds raised for an inauguration can be used only for the actual inauguration. That simple.

Furthermore, those reimbursed for the inaugural celebration should not be politicians and their cronies. Most people who work for a candidate for governor do not get paid or reimbursed. It’s a privilege to serve. Should we continue to allow what now amounts to a slush fund for personal reimbursements?

Enough is enough. No longer should we allow large-dollar donations to be collected from those seeking favor from the government. This is particularly true when we have many issues still needing to be addressed in our state, such as hundreds of New Hampshire citizens dying every year from an opioid crisis as well as Concord still not addressing a broken state-wide education system that needs to be financially fixed. Let’s limit our self-congratulatory, celebratory balls while we continue to have substantive problems to solve.

Hubris means going too far and not keeping one’s focus on the actual ball, which means serving without favor or entitlement. Governor, you went too far on this one and people are paying attention. It’s time to stop the inaugural money merry-go-round and work for all the people.

(Mark Connolly is a former N.H. deputy secretary of state, director of securities regulation and state representative. He currently is the principal of New Castle Investment Advisors, LLC, in Portsmouth.)

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