Legally required expense records still missing for several current, former NH officials

The New Hampshire Statehouse dome

The New Hampshire Statehouse dome Hannah Schroeder/Keene Sentinel staff photo, file

By RICK GREEN

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 05-06-2024 10:24 AM

The N.H. Attorney General’s Office is in charge of enforcing RSA 14-C, a state law requiring legislators to submit reports after organizations cover more than $50 of their expenses in attending political, charitable or ceremonial events.

An investigation by The Sentinel, published nearly a month ago, found several legislators attended expense-paid conservative conferences in Florida in recent years but didn’t have the required paperwork on file to show any air travel or accommodation benefits they received.

The Attorney General’s Office was non-committal this past Tuesday in response to questions on whether it is investigating potential violations of the statute or whether it has ever done so.

“The New Hampshire Department of Justice takes violations of State law seriously and proceeds with investigations and enforcement based on evidence,” Michael Garrity, the attorney general’s spokesman, said in an email.

“We work closely with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office and the New Hampshire Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit would investigate alleged violations of the statute. We would not comment on any open matters, however we take appropriate action where we have evidence of violations of New Hampshire law.”

The N.H. Legislature passed RSA 14-C in 2016. The law spells out its purpose as minimizing inappropriate influence from organizations with an interest in matters pending before the Legislature.

Former Republican Rep. Edward Gordon of Bristol, chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee, said in an interview last week that his panel is not looking into any potential violations of the law, which carries a misdemeanor penalty for those who knowingly fail to comply with its provisions.

“We are not a police force,” Gordon said. “We don’t go out looking for offenders. We would deal with it if somebody brought it to our attention in the form of a complaint. We would address it then.”

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Nobody has filed such a complaint, he said.

The Sentinel reported on April 5 that Texas-based Young Americans for Liberty covered costs New Hampshire lawmakers incurred to attend its conferences in Florida, usually exceeding $1,000, per public records dating back to 2021. The organization spent at least $92,000 for Granite State legislators to attend these gatherings during this time, the records show.

Reasons current and former legislators offered for the missing records include failure to file, not understanding their legal requirements or forms getting lost in the mail.

After being questioned by the newspaper, some of them filed late reports for benefits received for these conferences: N.H. Reps. Juliet Harvey-Bolia, R-Tilton; Matthew Santonastaso, R-Rindge; Lisa Post, R-Lyndeborough; Rep. Tom Kaczynski Jr., R-Rochester; and former state Reps. Dawn Johnson, R-Laconia; Tim Baxter, R-Seabrook; and former state Sen. Gary Daniels, R-Milford.

Reports still were not on file on the N.H. Secretary of State’s website as of Friday for others who said they attended the Young Americans for Liberty’s 2021 conference, including former state Reps. Cody Belanger, R-Epping; Max Abramson, R-Seabrook; and William Foster, R-New Boston.

Last week, Abramson said he believed that he filed the report after the conference and hasn’t tried to refile it. Foster said he believes “that was filed but if you’re not seeing it, I’ll take a look at that.” Belanger also said he thought he filed it, but wasn’t sure what state office he sent it to.

Former state Rep. John Lewicke, R-Mason, said he also remembers attending one of the group’s conferences, but there’s no online record that he filed a report on any benefits received.

Online photos for the group’s 2022 conference show Rep. Erica Layon, R-Derry, in attendance, but there is no record she ever filed the required report for the gathering.

Layon did not return a call for comment last week but previously said she would make sure her report gets properly filed, adding that New Hampshire representatives have many deadlines and little help.

She went to the group’s 2021 gathering and filed a report with a list of the New Hampshire lawmakers who were planning to attend that year, including former Rep. Michael Yakubovich, R-Hooksett. He does not have any reports on file and did not return calls for comment.