Ethics Committee Continues To Investigate Top N.H. Democrat's Role As Union President

Oct 20, 2019

The Legislative Ethics Committee is still weighing how to proceed on a complaint involving one of the top-ranking Democrats at the New Hampshire State House, four months after it first began a “preliminary investigation” into the matter.

The complaint centers on House Majority Leader Doug Ley of Jaffrey and his role as president of the New Hampshire Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. The complaint — which was filed by Christopher Mazerall, a Republican who ran against Ley for a House seat in 2018 — asks the ethics committee to investigate whether Ley violated State House rules by participating in legislative business that directly impacts his employer.

Ley has previously told NHPR he can't comment on the pending complaint, but he has maintained that he has not violated any ethics rules.

“If there's a position that I need to take based on my constituents that is not, let's say for whatever reason, not aligned with AFT New Hampshire, then it's not going to be aligned with AFT New Hampshire, so be,” Ley told NHPR in April. “I'm not their lobbyist.”

As NHPR has previously reported, Ley’s roles as a union leader and a legislator have overlapped repeatedly in recent years. He has testified and voted on bills that his union has explicitly endorsed or opposed, and he was at one time authoring the union’s “legislative bulletins,” which encouraged union members to lobby their elected representatives on the union’s favored positions.

(Read more: In Votes At N.H. State House, Lawmakers' Personal and Public Interests Often Overlap)

At the ethics committee's most recent meeting on Friday, Chairman Ned Gordon said he couldn't discuss details of the complaint but did confirm that it is moving along.

“I think we all hope that it won’t require several more meetings because we know people have to be anxious about the outcome and we want to resolve the matter as quickly as we can,” Gordon said. “But at the same time you want to be fair and make sure that everyone feels they’ve been properly heard.”

At this point, Gordon said both Ley and Mazerall have been given an opportunity to convey their perspective to the ethics committee, and the committee is gathering additional information about the case. From here, the committee could decide to dismiss the complaint, move it forward to a more formal hearing process or pursue some other form of resolution.

The complaint against Ley specifically references the ethics committee’s past guidance to lawmakers on how to handle potential conflicts of interest related to their outside employment. It cites an advisory opinion issued in response to a Republican lawmaker who asked whether he would be allowed to take a job with another organization that’s heavily involved in education policy.

In that instance, the ethics committee said the lawmaker could take the job, but only if he accepted a number of other restrictions on his legislative work. He would have to abstain from sponsoring, testifying or voting on “any decision of the legislature, county delegation, or any state agency on matters directly related to the interests" of his employer.

“Disclosure of his conflict of interest in relation to his employment . . . would not excuse or absolve his violation of these prohibitions,” the committee wrote.