When Colin Van Ostern announced he would run for secretary of state last March, he said supporting candidates for seats to the Legislature who would elect the office would be a priority.

“I intend to do everything in my power to help elect a legislative majority in support of the platform,” Van Ostern told WMUR. “I intend to recruit and campaign and raise money for these candidates.”

There’s no question there was some blow-back to those remarks, as it could look like vote buying.

A month later Van Ostern had changed his tune on direct support of candidates. He stuck to the “I’m staying directly out” mantra for the rest of the race.

Van Ostern said his Free and Fair committee won’t write checks or run ads for particular candidates, but it will fund in-person and online organizing efforts that advance its agenda, the Keene Sentinel reported in mid-April.

Two months later, his past 2016 gubernatorial campaign treasurer was stepping down from Van Ostern’s post-2016 political PAC, NH Forward.

Just two days after that, Van Ostern’s old treasurer had resurrected a six-year dormant group, Common Sense for New Hampshire PAC, and over three weeks she solicited large cash checks to it from Van Ostern’s past donors.

The group was dedicated to recruiting and financially supporting many of the new House Democrats who were elected — a number of whom now support Van Ostern’s bid for secretary of state.

But that treasurer, Deb Butler, said there was no link between Van Ostern’s bid for secretary of state and Common Sense.

“There is no connection between the work of Common Sense for New Hampshire (CSNH) PAC and Colin’s run,” Butler said. “Like many other NH Democrats who care about voting rights and voter suppression, I personally, wholeheartedly support Colin’s candidacy. This is my personal position not related to CSNH in any way.”

The third candidate for secretary of state, former Democratic state representatives Peter Sullivan of Manchester, isn’t buying it.

“Can I conclusively draw a bright line between the two? It’s hard to do that,” Sullivan said.

“The money given to Common Sense, it’s the same Stonyfield and Dartmouth network for Colin. This just doesn’t smell right.

“When you are running for secretary of state you have to avoid not just impropriety but the appearance of impropriety. This creates at the least a strong appearance of impropriety.”

Sullivan isn’t endorsing either Secretary of State Bill Gardner or Van Ostern, who will go before the full Legislature for a showdown vote on Dec. 5.

Van Ostern spokesman Shannon McLeod said Van Ostern had no contact with or knowledge about what Common Sense NH was doing.

“When Colin launched his campaign for secretary of state last spring he asked his old campaign fiscal agent to step down knowing her own past personal and professional relationship with Sec. Bill Gardner, Molly Kelly for Governor and many, many others dating back to at least 2012,” McLeod said in a statement.

“Suggesting anything more than that sounds like a wild conspiracy theory, and it is a pretty silly one considering that her organization’s public financial reports show that they actively helped candidates supporting Secretary Gardner as well.”

Butler resigned as treasurer of Van Ostern’s 2016 New Hampshire Forward PAC on June 20 and then on June 22 recreated Common Sense NH, which had first been formed in 2012 to elect House Democrats to successfully unseat Republican Bill O’Brien as House speaker.

She then raised $5,000 checks from many donors who gave either to Van Ostern’s Free and Fair NH group formed for his secretary of state run or for his 2016 run for governor.

These include Stonyfield Farm co-founder Gary and Meg Hirshberg ($10,000), former Markem Corp. executive Jim and Judith Putnam of Keene ($10,000), Holderness retirees Woolsey and Beatrice Conover ($10,000) and Carl Lehner ($5,000) of Holderness, a director with Leigh Fiber Holdings in Wellford, S.C.

Butler said she set about working on getting the best House Democratic hopefuls to file with a coalition that included the NH Young Democrats, Kent Street Coalition, America Votes and Committee to Elect House Democrats.

Common Sense wrote $5,000 checks each to the young Democrats and the House Democratic PAC.

During the last two weeks of the election it spent nearly $8,000 on in-kind expenditures. Hand-written postcards with Kent Street Coalition’s help were sent out on behalf of more than 30 specific House Democratic hopefuls, some of whom are openly backing Van Ostern.

“There was no litmus test when we recruited and no litmus test for post filing period support. I do not know if any of our recruits were in the 23 Dems that voted for SOS Gardner at the caucus,” Butler said.

“I do remember reading recently that Jim McKay of Concord was quoted as saying he was on the fence. CSNH did a targeting mailing for him. Beyond that, I have no knowledge of how any of the folks we helped are thinking. Neither I, nor our organizer, have ever asked any NH House candidate how they would vote in the SOS race.”

A few of the candidates getting those postcards gave to Van Ostern’s Free and Fair New Hampshire, including Gary Woods of Bow ($100) and David Coursin of Northwood ($100).

The Status reached six of those candidates who had gotten help from these postcards and the only knowledge some had about Common Sense was Michael Padmore, a consultant to the PAC paid nearly $30,000 who was field director for Civix Strategy Group and before that worked for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“I knew they were going to send out some cards but he’s the only person I knew associated with it,” said state Rep. Kermit Williams, D-Wilton.

“I did attend a couple of Colin’s discussion meetings and full disclosure, I am supporting him.”

Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough, said she only knew of Padmore and the Kent Street connection and no other connection.

“I’m not sure where the funding for it came from,” Porter said, adding she too is backing Van Ostern.

Longtime Rep. Ben Baroody, D-Manchester, got benefit from the postcards, but said he knew nothing about the group that did them and was still supporting Gardner.

Butler said this was a unified effort that led to a record filing of House Democratic candidates and the flip of the lower chamber for the fourth time in the past five elections.

She also served as campaign treasurer for 2018 nominee for governor Molly Kelly.

“I am exceptionally proud of the work done all over the state by thousands of people on down-ballot races from the paid organizers at Committee to Elect House Democrats to local volunteers who wrote a few postcards,” Butler said.

“Every little piece added up to a spectacular result for NH.”

Sullivan said he was surprised so many in the Young Democrats group went with Van Ostern when he had been a national committee member.

“Maybe Colin thought all of this was going to fly under the radar,” Sullivan said.

“To me it’s another example of Colin saying one thing and doing another. You should be counted on to do the right thing when people aren’t watching, but he seems incapable of doing that.”

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Was anyone surprised on the eve of Nancy Pelosi’s test in the caucus that 1st District Congressman-Elect Chris Pappas would get on board with the likely next House speaker to be.

”After careful consideration and discussion with many constituents and future colleagues in Congress, I have decided to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. I believe she is best equipped to lead the House at this point in our history. My conversations with her convinced me she will lead with fairness and empower the incoming class to play a significant role in the work ahead,” Pappas said in a statement.

”We must get down to doing the people’s business quickly, and we should start by reforming the way Washington works, lowering the cost of health care, and creating an economy that allows everyone to succeed. As a representative of New Hampshire’s 1st District, I will work with anyone, anywhere to do what’s right for the New Hampshire district I represent, and I will stand up to anyone from President Trump to leaders in Congress when they’re wrong. “I am eager to get to work for all the people of New Hampshire in January.”

Soon we’ll learn what Pappas got for his loyalty since despite the intense pressure on all of them, 35 House Democrats voted no on Pelosi or left a blank ballot in the closed House Democratic caucus Wednesday.

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Former Trump Co-Chairman Steve Stepanek of Amherst took a few steps closer to becoming chairman of the Republican State Committee with two leading potential contenders.

Current Chairman Wayne MacDonald of Derry is the major obstacle who has yet to decide if he’ll seek a full term for chairman in January.

But GOP consultant Mike Biundo of Manchester and former GOP Vice Chairman Matt Mayberry of Dover will not.

Biundo said seeking the party post while dealing with a growing political consulting business was too much.

“While I am honored and truly humbled to have been asked to run by such a cross-section of the Republican Party to become the next NH GOP chairman, the timing is not right for me, and more importantly, my business,” Biundo said.

”I have been involved in New Hampshire and national politics in some way, shape, or form since 1992. This cycle alone, my company, RightVoter, was involved in races in over a dozen states. I have worked with state party apparatuses in nearly every corner of our nation. It couldn’t be more clear that the NH GOP Chair needs to be a full-time position in order to be done right.”

Mayberry said he’ll be working behind the scenes to reverse the GOP losses in 2020.

”I love my party, but upon prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to not pursue this role,” Mayberry said. “I love my current job and the volunteer work I am doing to help veterans. Governor Sununu is doing a great job but he needs more legislative allies and Republican majorities, so I will be focusing on helping retake our state Senate, NH House and Executive Council.”

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The Concord City Council may soon need to fill two full-time seats on its board.

Last week Gov. Chris Sununu nominated State Liquor Commission administrator Dan St. Hilaire to a superior court judgeship to replace Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson, who retires early next month.

St. Hilaire has served as Merrimack County attorney but politically may be best known as the executive councilor who after voting against contracts for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, decided not to seek re-election and virtually handed that seat to Van Ostern.

The other council seat being vacated will be that of House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff, who has said he’ll step down from the city post after he officially becomes House speaker on Dec. 5.

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You can count on the holiday period offering all kinds of what-could-happen-if stories in politics.

This past week’s was Roll Call’s story on seven potential running mates for 2020, should Donald Trump do the unlikely and dump Vice President Mike Pence.

ex-NH Sen. Kelly Ayotte was as one of seven picked by a team of GOP strategists — admittedly named one of the long shots,

In 2012 Ayotte was vetted as a possible running mate to Mitt Romney.

”She would help the president with women voters and on foreign policy, two places where he’s weak. And, frankly, she really needs to have a more prominent role in the Republican Party,” the strategist said.

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Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, has been joined by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., in seeking the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General to launch a probe into how Trump’s friends have dictated a number of VA actions and used the agency to advance business and personal interests.

The General Accountability Office has confirmed it is opening an investigation after a ProPublica report on the actions of several wealthy friends of Trumps who influenced VA decisions such as its electronic health records modernization project.

“Allowing the President’s friends at Mar-a-Lago to make decisions at the VA is an insult to the brave and selfless service of our veterans,” Hassan said.

“I am pleased that the Government Accountability Office has opened an investigation into how the President’s friends, who have little relevant experience and are not government employees, were able to wield such power over decisions that impact veterans in New Hampshire and across America. There is far more work to do to ensure that our veterans get the care and support that they have earned, and I won’t stop pushing for answers because our veterans deserve nothing less.”

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Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, was entering her last month in office before her voluntary departure and weighed in on food safety this week.

Shea-Porter is the founder of the House Asthma and Allergy Caucus.

She sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb calling on FDA to require more clear labeling of sesame products.

Reps. Eliot Engel, D-NY, and Gregg Harper, R-Miss., co-chaired the caucus and signed onto the letter.

“Uniform and easily understandable labels will help Americans with sesame allergies and their families safely navigate their food choices and avoid preventable reactions,” the members wrote. “Considering the prevalence and severity of sesame allergies, we strongly encourage the FDA to regulate sesame products in a manner similar to the eight currently labeled allergens and require the clear labeling of these products.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com