June 30. 2018 10:11PM

Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Who's behind Americans for Prosperity challenge?


Gov. Chris Sununu was only two months in office when the House of Representatives defeated Senate-sponsored right-to-work legislation in February 2017, as 32 Republicans sided with a united Democratic caucus.

But the issue remains as hot as ever, with the conservative policy group Americans for Prosperity targeting GOP reps who voted against the measure in a run-up to the September primaries and November election.

As previously reported, seven of those reps recently wrote a letter to the Attorney General, asking if AFP qualifies for nonprofit status as a "social welfare organization," or should file as a political committee and disclose its funding sources.

That report drew a rebuke from seven-term GOP Rep. Lynne Ober of Hudson, vice chair of the powerful Finance Committee. "The story's emphasis was that state representatives were filing a case," she wrote in an email. "The truth is that union activists who happen to also be state representatives were filing."

Right-to-work supporters see it as a matter of individual freedom. Someone who doesn't want to belong to a union or doesn't agree with the politics of the union shouldn't have to pay anything to the union, even if it represents them in the workplace. Opponents of right-to-work laws see them as just another form of union busting.

Five of the seven GOP representatives who co-signed the letter to the Attorney General have some union connection. Epping Rep. Sean Morrison is a Hampton firefighter and a member of the N.H. Professional Firefighters Association.

Matthew Scruton of Rochester is not now nor has he ever been affiliated with a union, but his wife was a public-school teacher for more than 10 years and was union affiliated.

Michael McCarthy of Nashua, a tech support specialist in telecommunications, is a union member whose local is out of Rhode Island, while his wife also works in telecommunications and is the vice president of her union local.

Martin Bove of Londonderry is a retired state employee who worked for DHHS in many positions and was a member of the state employees union in that time.

Mark Proulx of Manchester was a Nashua firefighter for 30 years and retired as a lieutenant. He was a union member during his time as a firefighter and has been supported by the firefighters union in his campaigns.

Philip Bean of Hampton runs an insurance agency and as a Hampton selectmen has represented the town as management in negotiations with municipal unions. He has no union connections.

Jason Janvrin, chair of the Seabrook Planning Board, does not appear to have any union connections either. He could not be reached for confirmation.

The reaction to the letter from the seven reps illustrates how deeply the right-to-work vote divided Republicans, and how bad feelings still linger. There's no question the 32 representatives who voted against right-to-work were seen in some quarters as "union activists who happen to also be state representatives."

The tone was set in a February 2017 GOP caucus meeting when Sununu learned that several representatives planned to vote against right-to-work and is reported to have said, "Go, leave and vote with the Democrats."

After being banished like Judas at the Last Supper, it's no surprise that some failed to fall into line on several subsequent votes that mattered to the governor.

Morrison says the focus on right-to-work is unfortunate. "The frame of this inquiry has been shifted to one political issue," he said. "That is not the reason that seven legislators filed a complaint. The reason for the complaint is we believe that the AFP's major purpose is indeed political activity."

AFP-NH state director Greg Moore, confident the group is in full compliance with the law, received a letter from the Department of Justice on Friday seeking a response to the reps' letter.

He hopes the DOJ will address the matter with a written opinion. AFP-NH has been the target of these kinds of complaints in the past, but the AG has never publicly responded, leaving the question unresolved.

A state rep filed a similar complaint in 2012, and in 2014 a group calling itself Open Democracy also filed a complaint claiming AFP should register as a political committee.

"It would be nice if the AG just sent a letter back saying, 'No, actually issue advocacy is protected by the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment," said Moore.