Legislative ethics panel gives top House Democrat light slap

The Legislative Ethics Committee reached an "informal resolution" of a complaint against House Majority Leader Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey. The panel found he took part in issues he should not have as paid president of a teachers union but it was unintentional and the guidelines do not give a "bright line" about when to step away from playing any role on an issue.

CONCORD — A legislative ethics panel gave the top House Democrat a light slap on the wrist for having spoken in debate or voted on legislation affecting his full-time job as the president of the state's second largest teachers union.

The Legislative Ethics Committee voted to end an ethics complaint against House Majority Leader Douglas Ley with an "informal resolution."

The report advises in the future Ley must excuse himself from these matters because they present a potential conflict of interest or he'll be found in violation of ethics charges. 

The complaint was filed by Christopher Mazerall, a Jaffrey Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Ley in last fall’s elections

State Rep. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol and a former circuit court judge, authored the ruling for the panel.

"The committee recognizes that the Ethics Guidelines are not always easily understood and are subject to interpretation. As stated previously, there is no bright line set out in the Ethics Guidelines establishing when recusal is required. Perhaps that is a matter for the Legislature to address in the future," Gordon wrote.

The committee also took into account that Ley did not "intentionally violate" ethics rules.

Ley is president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union smaller only than the National Education Association of New Hampshire.

On three of the four examples Mazerall brought in his complaint, the ethics panel said Ley should have recused himself from any involvement in the issue.

The three were the anti-union, Right to Work bill, a second one to eliminate automatic dues for union members and family and medical leave legislation.

In the first two, Ley voted on the matter and in the third he took part in the discussion of the issue.

The committee advised that by the letter of the ethics guidelines all technically were violations.

"Certainly, when you advocate for or vote on union-related matters, your position as president of AFT-NH creates an apparent conflict of interest," Ethics Chairman Gordon concluded.

In a statement, Ley said he accepted the findings of the committee and would act accordingly in the future.

"I am pleased the Committee found no willful misconduct, but in order to avoid any future conflict of interest I have agreed to refrain from involving myself in any legislation that has a direct impact on labor unions while serving as president of the American Federation of Teachers- New Hampshire," Ley said in a statement.

"I will voluntarily consult with the Legislative Ethics Committee and/or the ethics committee chair should future circumstances require in regards to legislative proposals. With this now behind me I look forward to getting back to the important work of making a New Hampshire that works for all Granite Staters.”

House Republican Leader Dick Hinch of Merrimack questioned if the panel went easy on Ley due to his partisan leadership post.

"Let’s get serious. The majority leader has been under investigation for months, and the Ethics Committee issued a report that flags several years of ethically questionable activity," Hinch said in a statement.

"How can the speaker defend his lack of action? Are ethics violations for Democrats in a leadership position being swept under the rug?”

The ethics panel noted its displeasure that the complaint against Ley was leaked by "some persons" to certain media outlets noting it's a criminal misdemeanor to  make them public unless the accused requests it.

Monday, December 09, 2019