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GOP says Democrats are hypocrites in LGC criticism

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 22. 2013 11:26PM

State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, left, heads an advocacy agency, while Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford is the new chief of the Local Government Center. 

CONCORD — State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, works for an advocacy group largely funded with taxpayer dollars and has testified and voted on legislation affecting the group.

So, Republicans want to know why Democrats are making so much noise about a decision by Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, to take the job as executive director of the Local Government Center.

Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said Democrats are trying to make political hay out of Bragdon's decision while ignoring potential conflicts of interest in their own ranks.

"The fact that they are not raising concerns about a Democratic senator in the same kind of situation is hypocritical and shows they are trying to shamelessly score political points," Williams said. "They're not being consistent and they're not holding Democratic senators to the same standard."

Woodburn has served as executive director of the Council for Children and Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions since 2011. The council was created in 1997 by an act of the Legislature, is funded largely by the state, and is an advocacy organization for children with chronic illness that occasionally has business before lawmakers.

At a Senate hearing on March 13, Woodburn testified in support of a bill that changed the name of the council, added a youth member and changed annual reporting dates, and he presented an amendment to the bill.

The name-change legislation was not controversial, and no one spoke in opposition.

"We're not alleging that there's anything wrong with what Senator Woodburn is doing, as long he does recuse himself as Senator Bragdon has said he will do when there is a potential conflict," said Williams. "New Hampshire has a citizens' Legislature and legislators need to earn a living outside their service as elected officials."

New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesperson Harrell Kirstein said the two situations are not at all similar.

"We're not even talking apples and oranges," he said. "This is like night and day. Senator Woodburn works part-time at an organization that raises awareness for sick kids, which he has listed on his disclosure form. This is a position that he had before he was elected to the state Senate. Voters were aware of the fact that he works for sick kids before they voted for him last fall."

The potential for a conflict of interest with the LGC is much greater, Kirstein said.

"The LGC is a half-billion-dollar organization that's currently suing the state of New Hampshire and is connected to an entire team of registered lobbyists," he said. "They try to influence legislation every day."

The LGC, which controls a variety of insurance pools and trust funds for public and municipal employees, has been at the center of legal, regulatory and legislative controversies, prompting Bragdon to announce last week that he would step down as Senate president to reduce the potential for conflicts, but will retain his Senate seat.

The Democratic Party issued a statement on Tuesday questioning the timing of Bragdon's decision, while he was still Senate president, to appoint Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, to a panel looking into the LGC, saying the appointment "raises significant concerns about a breach of the state's ethics handbook."

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