MANCHESTER —The attorney general Wednesday cleared the Liquor Commission of possible wrongdoing for allegedly hiring a lobbyist.
The attorney general’s report was discussed during a closed-door meeting with the Executive Council after its meeting at Manchester School of Technology.
According to the report, liquor enforcement chief Eddie Edwards sent a report to the attorney general in May alleging the commission hired New Hampshire Beer Wholesalers lobbyist Clark Corson to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the commission. State law forbids the use of state money to lobby lawmakers.
A preliminary investigation by Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice concluded there is no reason for a full-fledged investigation because the allegations were unfounded.
Corson was hired to do a feasibility study of selling beer in state liquor stores, but the allegations are that the study was a cover for his lobbying efforts against a bill allowing hard liquor to be sold in grocery and convenience stores.
“Even though the underlying allegations were unfounded, it still raises a question about the commission’s oversight of the contractor,” said Gov. John Lynch’s press secretary, Colin Manning. “It should have been clear that hiring a beer industry lobbyist to write what was intended to be an independent review of selling beer in liquor stores would call into question the objectivity of that report. The governor believes commissioners (Joseph) Mollica and (Michael) Milligan are aware of the concern raised in this report and are taking steps to address their contracting process,” he said.
The allegations follow the potential loss of several hundred cases of wine during the move of the Portsmouth liquor store six months ago.
After several months of internal review by the commission and Edwards, the attorney general’s office was notified of the incident and is conducting its own investigation.
Last month, former commissioner Mark Bodi resigned saying he was pursuing other opportunities.
During Wednesday’s closed-door session, Attorney Michael Delaney told the councilors he was closing the case on the lobbying question raised by Edwards.
“(Edwards) suggested that Corson had been hired to do a feasibility study on the sale of beer at the liquor stores, but that study was simply a cover for Corson doing lobbying work,” Rice wrote in her report.
According to the report, Bodi urged Corson to submit his resume to do the study, which was to be done through one of the commission’s advertising agencies, Rumbletree, as an outside independent analysis.
Corson’s resume was submitted to the agency by a commission employee who said Corson was identified by the commission as someone who could do the study, according to the report.
Corson was hired to do the $30,000 study and submitted the study in mid-July to Rumbletree.
Corson participated in a group opposed to House Bill 1251, which would have allowed liquor to be sold in grocery and convenience stores, which also was opposed by the commission. Corson told Rice his participation was as lobbyist for the beer wholesalers and he identified himself as their lobbyist.
According to Rice’s report, “I found no evidence that Corson was acting as a lobbyist for the Liquor Commission.”
She did say there was “no RFP, no vetting of his qualifications, or any process to determine whether he was qualified and/or whether his lobbying position created an actual or an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
Rice notes that Corson said he had a personal friendship with Bodi, which raises conflict of interest issues.
“Given Bodi’s departure from state government, additional review of his compliance with the ethics law will not be undertaken,” Rice wrote.
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Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.