New Hampshire's Legislative Ethics Committee is reviewing a complaint against House Majority Leader Doug Ley, which alleges he violated ethics guidelines by testifying and voting on legislation that could affect the teachers union that employs him as its president.
The ethics committee met behind closed doors to consider the complaint on Monday and is not publicly disclosing details of the situation at this time. But NHPR has independently confirmed the existence of the complaint and the committee’s ongoing review into the matter.
The complaint centers on the intersection of Ley’s public and professional roles: In addition to serving as the second-ranking Democrat in the New Hampshire House, Ley is also the president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.
NHPR reported last month on how Ley’s role with the teachers’ union frequently overlaps with his role in the Legislature. He routinely votes on legislation that his union has explicitly endorsed or opposed, and in some cases he has represented the union’s position at legislative hearings, delivering public testimony on bills ranging from union membership to school choice.
Ley has also written AFT New Hampshire’s regular “legislative bulletins,” which provide the union’s members with insight into the status of various bills and other inside perspective on State House doings.
Ley maintains that there’s nothing amiss about how he balances his union job with his role in the legislature.
“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.”
But the complaint currently pending before the Legislative Ethics Committee asks for a review of whether Ley’s “participation in certain official activities would constitute violation of the Ethics Guidelines’ Prohibited Activities.”
“Research has shown Ley to have never recused himself from a vote in committee nor in the full House due to conflict,” the complaint states, according to a copy obtained by NHPR. “Indeed, conversations with Labor committee members of both parties result in no recollection of ever restricting his own commentary on legislation OR on advising others who would be voting on bills affecting his position as President of the AFT-NH.”
The complaint was filed by Christopher Mazerall, a Jaffrey Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Ley in last fall’s elections.
While the complaint remains confidential under the ethics committee’s guidelines, it was first noted publicly by the political blog Granite Grok in March. NHPR learned of Mazerall’s involvement after seeing a public Facebook post in which he shared a link to a Granite Grok item about Ley, along with the following commentary: “YESSSS!!! MY ETHICS REPORT HAS FINALLY BEEN RECEIVED! ABOUT TIME THESE COCKROACHES ARE DRAGGED OUT INTO THE SUNLIGHT!”
When NHPR contacted Mazerall, he confirmed that he filed a complaint with the ethics committee regarding Ley’s role in AFT New Hampshire. Given the many ways the legislature shapes education policy, Mazerall said, Ley’s position with the union creates “a pretty hefty conflict of interest.”
“If this was somebody who represented a more corporate conflict of interest, I think it would be more apparent to people,” Mazerall told NHPR.
Both Mazerall and Ley attended the ethics committee’s meeting on Monday. The committee went into nonpublic session for a portion of Monday’s proceedings, during which time both men spoke to committee members behind closed doors.
When public proceedings resumed, Ethics Chairman Ned Gordon announced that the committee “decided to continue its initial review of complaint No. 2019-2,” but offered no further details on the nature of that complaint. A letter obtained by NHPR confirmed that the complaint identified by Gordon was the one Mazerall had filed.
A similar question of legislative ethics
Ley declined to comment after the ethics meeting but previously told NHPR he “completed the requisite paperwork and have followed the guidelines” intended to regulate potential conflicts of interest among legislators.
The complaint against Ley asks the ethics committee to consider Ley’s situation in the context of a similar situation it considered just last year, involving a Republican lawmaker who was considering a job offer from an organization that benefited from legislation he had sponsored.
Rep. Greg Hill, of Northfield, sought guidance from the ethics committee about whether he was allowed to accept a paid position with the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which administers funding for the state’s school choice program. Hill co-sponsored the 2012 legislation that led to the creation of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and he has continued to work on legislation that is of interest to the group.
The ethics committee told Hill that accepting the job with the Children’s Scholarship Fund wouldn’t, on its own, constitute a violation — but carrying out “certain official activities” while employed with the organization would violate the rules.
According to the ethics committee’s advisory opinion, Hill wouldn’t be allowed to “introduce legislation, testify before any legislative committee or state agency, vote in committee or in House session, or otherwise participate in, influence, or attempt to influence any decision of the legislature, county delegation, or any state agency on matters directly related to the interests of CSF.” He also wouldn’t be allowed to “provide advice or other assistance to CSF which related to his official activities.”
“Disclosure of his conflict of interest in relation to his employment with CSF would not excuse or absolve his violation of these prohibitions,” the committee wrote.
Hill did not end up accepting the position with the Children’s Scholarship Fund. The way he saw it, he wouldn’t have been able to effectively perform either of his positions — in the Legislature or with the scholarship fund — without risking an ethics violation.
“I could not submit legislation on school choice issues, I could not talk to other legislators on school choice issues, I could not testify on school choice issues and I could not vote on school choice issues — all of those, I felt, would have made me a very poor legislator for my community,” Hill explained in an interview with NHPR. “In addition, I could also not advise Children’s Scholarship Fund on any legislative matters — so that would have made me a very poor employee.”
Hill attended the ethics committee’s April 19 meeting where the panel first started its confidential review of the complaint against Ley. Hill said he wanted ”to see if the standard that they asked of me is going to be carried forward through all ethics questions.”