The front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader today carries a welcome headline – below the fold, but front page nonetheless: “Planned Parenthood votes cited.” The kicker beneath: “Ethics complaint: Campaign contributions called a factor in Right to Life member’s complaint against [Governor Maggie] Hassan, [Executive Councilor Colin] Van Ostern”.
The complainant is Darlene Pawlik, who as the article notes is a Right to Life member. Left unspecified is her work as vice-president of Save the 1. She doesn’t waste time feeling intimidated.
Pawlik’s complaint is about donations to Hassan’s and Van Ostern’s campaigns as well as expenditures not coordinated with the candidates during the 2012 and 2014 campaign cycles. Was it ethical for Hassan to support and Van Ostern to vote on subsequent PP business, including the recent do-over?
Is it ethical under New Hampshire law and regulation for elected officials to participate in votes involving groups that have given campaign contributions to those officials?
Moot point, in the view of PP of Northern New England’s vice-president of public policy, as quoted in the Union Leader. She “declined to comment”, but was moved to note that PPNNE and its Political Action Fund (note the possessive) are “separate and distinct organizations with different funding, different activities and different tax status.”
A year ago this month, I looked at some of the PPNNE donations – more like investments – in the 2014 Executive Council races. It was clear at that time that investments in candidates yielded significant dividends for the regions’s largest abortion provider.
So who’s going to hear this ethics complaint? An agency of which I’ve been hitherto unaware: the Executive Branch Ethics Committee, whose next meeting may or may not be held on August 3. Its last three scheduled monthly meetings were cancelled. No complaints to consider? I don’t know, but they sure have one now.
Van Ostern and Hassan’s spokesman have responded to Pawlik’s complaint as one might expect, using words like “baseless,” “false,” “frivolous,” and – my personal favorite – “purely motivated by politics.”
And when Hassan and Van Ostern say something’s motivated by politics, they know whereof they speak.
Stay tuned. Let’s find out if ethics in New Hampshire’s executive branch is simply a theory.