Sununu calls on Van Ostern to return campaign contributions from D-H employees

Monitor staff
Published: 10/26/2016 11:28:50 PM

In the wake of a controversial hospital contract, Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu has called on Democratic opponent Colin Van Ostern to return thousands of dollars in contributions Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center employees made to his campaign.

Both candidates are executive councilors, and on Wednesday, Sununu tied the money to Van Ostern’s unwillingness to rebid a state contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to run New Hampshire Hospital, the state psychiatric facility in Concord.

“It is unethical for a public official to behave in this manner, with his objectivity clearly compromised on the awarding of a contract that would oversee the psychiatric care of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Sadly, this has become New Hampshire’s own version of pay to play.”

Sununu’s campaign accused Van Ostern of taking over $50,000 from the employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and its “affiliates.”

However, a closer look at that number shows it includes money donated by individuals who work as administrators and faculty at Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Additionally, the state’s GOP spreadsheet tracking Van Ostern’s contributions contained an error that listed one $150 contribution as $15,000.

With those amounts subtracted, the amount Van Ostern received from individuals who worked at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and its medical affiliates is closer to $12,000.

Sununu, an executive councilor from Newfields, has been calling on Gov. Maggie Hassan his fellow executive councilors to rebid Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s contract to run New Hampshire Hospital since the Lebanon hospital announced surprise layoffs in September.

Initially, the hospital said it could be laying off hundreds of staff, but it has since amended that number to 84.

More questions have been raised since the hospital’s announcement. A batch of emails released earlier this month showed state health officials corresponding with Dartmouth College about the bid for the New Hampshire Hospital contract.

“People have lost their jobs, staffing levels have been reduced and Dartmouth-Hitchcock officials have apparently engaged in the writing of a contract they planned to bid on,” Sununu said in the statement. “Colin Van Ostern has chosen to look the other way.”

On Wednesday, Van Ostern said he has not advocated for putting the contract back out to bid because he’s concerned it could disrupt care for New Hampshire hospital patients.

“I’m really disappointed Chris is putting politics and political attacks ahead of patient care at New Hampshire Hospital,” Van Ostern said. “The truth is he and I both voted on the exact same contract just last month for it.”

Van Ostern also accused Sununu of taking “thousands” from Dartmouth employees.

Sununu has also received campaign contributions – albeit a much smaller amount – from at least one Dartmouth-Hitchcock employee. His campaign filings show one employee donating $55 to his campaign.

When asked if he would also relinquish that money, Sununu said the two situations are different.

“I didn’t do anything to protect Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” he said. “A couple of contributions is one thing, $50,000 is another.”

This is not the first time campaign contributions have come into play in the governor’s race. During the primary, Republican Ted Gatsas criticized Sununu for accepting over $18,000 in contributions from Eversource employees, including the company’s CEO. Sununu has been a vocal supporter of Eversource’s Northern Pass project, though a campaign spokesman said that support had nothing to do with campaign contributions.

Van Ostern had a similar message Wednesday when it came to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“The only factor that comes into my mind when I’m voting for a contract is whether it is good or bad for the people of New Hampshire, period,” he said. “And in this case, more doctors, more nurses, more patient beds are what’s right for having better patient care and that’s why I’m supporting that.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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