When does a tweet cross the line on government ethics?
That’s the question at the center of a complaint filed this week by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, alleging Gov. Chris Sununu’s recent tweet about his day skiing at Waterville Valley Resort — which is owned by his family and, until recently, was managed by Sununu himself — violates state ethics rules.
The complaint refers to a tweet sent from Sununu’s official gubernatorial Twitter account (@GovChrisSununu), which operates separately from another personal account Sununu maintained throughout the campaign and before taking office (@ChrisSununu).
Smiling in a photo with his son on the slopes, Sununu wrote: “Best ski day! Great to be back at @waterville enjoying the best snow NH has to offer. Everyone should be in the white mountains this weekend.”
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) March 18, 2017
The Democrats’ complaint alleges Sununu’s tweet “not only uses his official platform as governor to promote a business, it deems the resort ‘the best snow New Hampshire has to offer,’ ranking it above other New Hampshire resorts.”
“This platform provided Waterville Valley with an unfair competitive advantage, the very type of inappropriate usage that statute is designed to prevent,” the complaint continues, adding that Sununu’s statement also violates rules meant to prevent public officials from using their position to advance organizations in which they have a financial interest.
In response to an email, David Abrams, a spokesman for Sununu said, "Gov. Sununu posts to his social media accounts as he travels all across the state. It’s troubling that the Democrats would look to politicize our state’s tourism."
The office that oversees the Executive Branch Ethics Committee said it had not received an official copy of the Democrats' complaint as of Thursday afternoon.
The Sununu family bought Waterville Valley Resort in 2010, and Chris Sununu himself served as Waterville Valley Resort’s CEO until just before taking office as governor. Members of the Sununu family continue to serve on the company’s board of directors, but the resort has declined to elaborate on the family's role or the extent of their financial interest in the company.
Waterville Valley Resort is listed on the financial disclosure form Sununu filed after taking office in January.
The form, which is mandated by a state law designed to prevent conflicts of interest, requires officials to list the names of any entities they might have a financial stake in. It's meant to cover organizations where officeholders or their family members are employees or advisors, or from which they’ve earned more than $10,000 during the previous year.
Sununu also indicates that he, or a family member, has a stake in several areas that may be impacted by public policy. Such interests disclosed on Sununu’s form include “resorts, restaurants, lodging,” “banking or financial services,” “water resources” and various business taxes, among others. But the form doesn't ask for details about the actual organizations themselves.
The form also does not ask officials to specify the nature of the financial interests — only to indicate that such interests exist, or to specify how much income they’ve earned beyond $10,000 in a previous calendar year. Sununu’s financial disclosure form doesn’t provide additional details.