Debate over Bragdon LGC appointment rages on
CONCORD — Peter Bragdon, the state Senate president appointed executive director of the New Hampshire Local Government Center, faces continued criticism that his two roles represent a conflict of interest.
Bragdon, a Republican from Milford, said Wednesday said he has "no plans" to resign his Senate role. He blamed party politics for the perception of any conflicts — the first criticism came from the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which said Tuesday that Bragdon would be leading "an army of lobbyists" at the LGC.
Bragdon responded in media reports that the attacks show that the NHDP doesn't know that LGC is "separate" from the New Hampshire Municipal Association, which provides legal representation and lobbying services for municipalities.
"People are trying to make it a partisan issue," he said. "It comes with the territory."
However, the New Hampshire Union Leader on Wednesday obtained documentation showing that the Local Government Center continues to employ active lobbyists. According to paperwork filed with the Secretary of State's Office, several lobbyists listed "NH Local Government Center" as the name of the lobbyist's partnership, firm or corporation.
One lobbyist, Timothy Fortier, specifically states in his filing that he lobbies for the LGC insurance operations, HealthTrust and Property-Liability Trust, which Bragdon will oversee.
In a statement released Tuesday, the NHMA said it "has operated as a totally separate, independent organization from the risk pools since January 2013." The Secretary of State filings were made July 31.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Bragdon was initially surprised by the filings. After researching the issue, he said the lobbyists continue to work for LGC while the organization tries to execute a corporate restructuring.
"As of September 1," he said, referring to the target date for restructuring, "that all goes away and all the lobbyists will work for NHMA."
Bragdon pointed out that his contract specifies that he will do no work for NHMA. But Democrats are not convinced.
"Senate President Peter Bragdon's dishonest claims about the lobbyists currently employed by the LGC add additional concerns already raised from individuals on both sides of the aisle about his reckless, irresponsible and ethically questionable decision to take this job," said NHDP spokesman Harrell Kirstein.
Bragdon also said he will continue to ask about any possible conflicts after learning about a rule in the state General Court ethics handbook that says legislators cannot accept anything of value from a person or company if they know or believe, "that the giver is or is likely to become subject to or interested in any matter or action pending before or contemplated by the legislator or the General Court."
LGC, and a state Bureau of Securities Regulation order compelling it to reorganize and return more than $50 million to its member political subdivisions, are the subjects of a conference committee hearing next week.
"I am definitely one to make sure that the rules are followed," Bragdon said.
Attorney General Joseph Foster, a former state senator, declined to comment directly about the conflict-of-interest issue except to say that he believed Bragdon would address those concerns.
"I will say that I have a fairly high regard for Senator Bragdon," Foster said. "He is a thoughtful, bright man."
"There have been significant concerns raised about the appointment and the potential conflicts of interest given that there are numerous issues that come before the legislature that would either directly or indirectly impact the LGC, and given that the role of Senate President is far-reaching," said Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Bragdon said that, before accepting the job, he asked state Senate lawyer Richard Lehmann about any possible conflicts. But Lehmann represents a group of towns suing LGC.
Bragdon said he learned of Lehmann's dual roles on Tuesday.
Bragdon's past includes a three-year stint as operations manager for Comp-Signa, where he oversaw the operations for the third-party administrator of workers compensation risk pools.
LGC administers public risk pools for health insurance, property and liability coverage and workers compensation insurance.He said he was approached "out of the blue" when interim Executive Director George Bald visited his office about three weeks ago and jokingly inquired whether Bragdon wanted the job. After giving it thought, he decided to apply, he said.
Bragdon said his short-term plans include dealing with issues brought up by a state Bureau of Securities Regulation order that LGC reorganize and return $50 million-plus in surplusesthat hearing officer determined was held in excessive reserves.
"My goal is to bring some kind of resolution ... that both sides can be comfortable with," he said.
State officials have said they are unwilling to budge from the requirements imposed in the order