Update: Reporter Dave Solomon reports in the New Hampshire Sunday News that New Hampshire’s Executive Branch Ethics Committee has dismissed Darlene Pawlik’s complaint against Governor Maggie Hassan and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern. Solomon reports in the State House Dome column that he got the news from “unofficial sources, since all complaints are considered behind closed doors, unless the committee decides to conduct an investigation.”
Pawlik’s complaint was formally submitted for consideration at the ethics committee’s August 3 meeting. She told me a day before the scheduled meeting that she would not be allowed to listen in.
Pawlik alleged that Hassan and Van Ostern should have recused themselves from proceedings involving state contracts with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, since both officials have received campaign donations from PP.
Business as usual will continue.
See Leaven for the Loaf’s earlier report on Pawlik’s complaint here.
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.
Pro-life New Hampshire readers have probably already seen the recent alert from New Hampshire Right to Life, warning of an upcoming vote by the Executive Council that might send funds to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, retroactive to what would have been the starting date of the contract that the Council rejected last August. Call your Councilor, says NHRTL, and I second that.
A few thoughts, in no particular order, with links to relevant posts:
The next Executive Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at 10 a.m. at the State House. The agenda for the meeting won’t be posted publicly until just a few days in advance, at which time we’ll find out if the retroactive funding is indeed coming up for a vote. Here is a link to the web page where the agenda will be posted; when you see “June 29” listed as a meeting date, there will be a link to the agenda.
Look up your district here and your Councilor’s contact information here.
Recall that Councilors Joe Kenney, Chris Sununu, and Dave Wheeler voted to reject the PP contract last August. At that meeting, Kenney and Sununu both cited the Center for Medical Progress videos as a factor in their vote. Those videos feature PP employees discussing trafficking in body parts, with a PP medical professional describing her willingness to alter abortion procedures not to provide the best care to women but to extract the most lucrative intact fetal organs.
I was at the August 2015 meeting and heard the discussion that preceded the vote. Sununu said something that got short shrift from some of his colleagues and Governor Hassan: “I’m pro-choice and I support Planned Parenthood, but in my district, women have no [other] choice.” From my report on the meeting: “He unsuccessfully urged Hassan and his fellow Councilors to ‘take a step back’ and support a study of health care options in Sununu’s southeastern New Hampshire district. He said he got calls from constituents who wanted family planning services but not at Planned Parenthood.“
Those constituents need to get on the phone again. Sununu voted in favor of a PPNNE contract in 2011, and against one in 2015. A swing vote, for sure.
Oh, the (in)humanity: In August, Councilor Chris Pappas said it would be inhumane to deny PP its contract. He then expressed reservations about the CMP videos. It was unclear whether he had watched the videos or whether he might flag any part of the content “inhumane.”
Dismissing his colleagues’ concerns about the CMP videos, Councilor Colin Van Ostern (now seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor) called opposition to the August contract “ideology” and the CMP videos “heavily edited.” He has had ten months since then to view the unedited videos, still available online.
Governor Hassan, in an unguarded (but on-the-record) moment at the August meeting, said before the PP contract vote, “I’m sure Planned Parenthood would review its operations if this was voted down.” When the contract was voted down a few minutes later, Hassan’s team was ready with a blistering press release: “It is clear that today’s vote is the result of an ideological and political attack against Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions …The council’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood will hurt the health and economic well-being of thousands of Granite Staters.” No mention there of PP reviewing its operations. Likewise, there was no mention of how the health and economic well-being of thousands of Granite Staters could be hurt by removing only $319,000 from PPNNE’s $20 million annual budget. (Remember, the denied contract was for $638,000 over two years.)
Note that no one on the Council intends to retire from public office this year.
Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat, is running for Governor. So is Chris Sununu, a Republican.
Councilors Joe Kenney (R), Chris Pappas (D), and Dave Wheeler (R) are running to keep their Council seats.
As for Governor Maggie Hassan (D), she is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Kelly Ayotte.
The New Hampshire Executive Council on Wednesday, in a sharply divided vote, denied a contract to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England that would have given PPNNE $638,900 over a two-year period. The vote follows the release of the fifth video by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood personnel in other states procuring body parts of aborted children and discussing pricing for various specimens.
Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields), who had declined before the meeting to indicate how he would vote, opposed the contract, He had supported a Planned Parenthood contract in 2011. On Wednesday, he joined Councilors Joe Kenney (R-Union) and David Wheeler (R-Milford) in the majority. Councilors Colin Van Ostern (D-Concord) and Christopher Pappas (D-Manchester) supported the contract with PP.
Governor Maggie Hassan said before the vote, “I’m sure Planned Parenthood would review its operations if this was voted down.” Her official statement after the vote made no such assurance.
In the discussion preceding the vote, Sununu said “I’m pro-choice and I support Planned Parenthood, but in my district, women have no [other] choice.” He unsuccessfully urged Hassan and his fellow Councilors to “take a step back” and support a study of health care options in Sununu’s southeastern New Hampshire district. He said he got calls from constituents who wanted family planning services but not at Planned Parenthood. He also expressed concern about activities at other Planned Parenthood affiliates documented in the CMP videos, which were dismissed by Hassan, Van Ostern and Pappas (in identical language) as “heavily edited.” “I’ve watched that video cover to cover with no edits,” said Sununu. “I’m pro-choice, but that’s not the issue here.”
Kenney acknowledged that he would vote against the PP contract because of the revelations in the CMP videos. “I’m not comfortable voting for anything with Planned Parenthood’s name on it. And the people against this contract that I got calls from were women.”
Pappas said it would be “inhumane” to deny PP its contract, and he criticized reliance on the CMP videos. Van Ostern called opposition to the contract “ideology.”
The Governor and Wheeler had a sharp exchange after Wheeler reminded her that he had called on her earlier in the week to order an investigation into PPNNE. He pointed out the push for such an investigation on the federal level. “You can’t divorce what’s going on nationally from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.” Hassan replied that she was “surprised” any Councilor would suggest that New Hampshire follow the federal government’s lead.
Hassan proclaimed herself “incredibly disappointed” by the Council’s decision. (In New Hampshire, the Governor has no veto power over Council decisions.) “It is clear that today’s vote is the result of an ideological and political attack against Planned Parenthood and a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions …The council’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood will hurt the health and economic well-being of thousands of Granite Staters.”
Hassan’s statement made no reference to the fact that the Council today approved family planning contracts with three other agencies, two of them abortion providers. All the family planning contracts had been presented to the Council in a single package before Kenney asked that the contracts be unbundled, allowing action on one to leave others unaffected.
Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund held a rally in front of the State House before the vote. The group posted an online statement before the vote warning that health care for 12,000 women would be at risk if the contract was denied. The proposed contract amount over two years was roughly two-thirds of what PPNNE spent on fundraising in 2014, or about 40% of what it spent on public policy the same year. PPNNE has also strongly denied that it is involved in what it calls “voluntary fetal tissue donation” – a term copied by Governor Hassan Wednesday.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s PAC and Action Fund spent more than $15,700 to support Hassan’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The same groups spent $30,400 on Executive Council races.
The team that gave New Hampshire a buffer zone law took a hit at the polls Tuesday. Maybe squelching peaceful prayer vigils isn’t a winning issue.
Preliminary results from Tuesday’s election indicate that at least twenty-five House members who voted for New Hampshire’s unenforced “buffer zone” law have lost their seats. The bill passed 162-100 on a day when the 400-seat House barely mustered a quorum to do business.
In the 24-member Senate, ten senators who supported the law were re-elected – maybe 11, pending the outcome in district 7.
There’s a repeal bill in the works, ready to be introduced as soon as the legislature convenes for 2015.
Fortunately for the abortion-facility lobbyists who worked so hard to pass the law, Governor Hassan was re-elected. She’ll likely veto a straight repeal, as opposed to repeal-and-replace. It would take a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override, and we’re not there yet. The shift in House and Senate membership is good news, but not decisive.
Send her a repeal bill anyway. Let the Governor decide just how much she wants to invest in nullifying the First Amendment outside abortion facilities. How long does she want to keep the taxpayers on the hook for defending this law, so similar to the one the Supreme Court threw out in McCullen v. Coakley? How much time and political capital does she want to invest in protecting the law, pushing other state business to a lower priority?
Make her go on record, over and over again.
The lead sponsor of the buffer zone law was just re-elected. She might say once again, as she did last year with a straight face, that this law is about “safety and balance” outside abortion facilities. Neither she nor the Governor ever managed to explain why our existing laws against trespassing, disorderly conduct, harassment and assault weren’t being used.
Make them keep trying. The buffer zone can be repealed, or it can be thrown out in court. Repeal is cheaper in every sense. The Reddy v. Foster case is still pending, with a restraining order currently preventing enforcement of the law. If I were governor, and if I were contemplating a U.S. Senate run in 2016, I’d be careful about inviting a judicial smackdown of a law I made a big deal about signing.