House Majority Leader Doug Ley is adamant that he hasn’t broken any ethics rules by engaging in legislative advocacy as president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American Federation of Teachers while serving in the Legislature.
He’s also maintained that his work on the union’s behalf — testifying at public hearings, rallying support or opposition for specific bills, and sending out “legislative bulletins” to union members — does not count as lobbying.
But Ley’s predecessor, former AFT-NH President Laura Hainey, said she did consider much of the same kind of advocacy work she did at the State House to constitute lobbying. And, unlike Ley, she registered as a lobbyist during her term as the union’s president.
Ley's overlapping roles — as a legislator and union president — are at the center of an ongoing ethics inquiry alleging that he failed to appropriately recuse himself from debates and votes affecting his union. The complaint is still pending, and the Legislative Ethics Committee is expected to continue reviewing the matter at its next meeting on June 24.
Ley, the second-ranking Democrat in the New Hampshire House, said his predecessor’s choice to register as a lobbyist was a reflection of their differing priorities as AFT-NH presidents.
“My predecessor as president did register as a lobbyist, but that was her choice and was based upon what she chose to focus upon as president,” Ley wrote in an email. “My focus and my emphasis as president lies elsewhere, on issues and challenges internal to AFT-NH, and not on lobbying.”
But when asked to further differentiate between his advocacy activities and his predecessors, Ley reiterated one point again and again: “She [Hainey] lobbied. I do not lobby.”
“She lobbied, I do not lobby. I do not lobby on behalf of AFT New Hampshire,” Ley said. “I don't know what more I can say to you. I do not lobby on behalf of AFT New Hampshire. I've said that to you repeatedly.”
Lobbying: To register or not to register?
Records from the New Hampshire Secretary of State show that Hainey, Ley’s predecessor who served as AFT-NH president from 2004 to 2016, registered as a lobbyist in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016. (NHPR only had access to records dating back to 2012 as of press time.)
Hainey said maintaining a presence at the State House to participate in legislative debates was a priority of AFT-NH during her time as the union’s president.
“I did a lot of the stuff, the lobbying, that a normal lobbyist would do,” Hainey told NHPR.
While Hainey said she also spoke directly to legislators about AFT-NH’s positions, she cited the fact that she testified at legislative hearings as the main reason for considering herself a lobbyist. Ley has repeatedly delivered the same kind of legislative testimony in his role as AFT-NH president, though he says his work does not constitute lobbying.
Ley said he does not lobby individual legislators on bills of interest to AFT-NH. But his role as the House Majority Leader puts him in contact with lots of individual lawmakers in the course of his day-to-day work at the State House.
“My predecessor lobbied. She lobbied individuals. She lobbied legislators,” Ley said. “I do not lobby legislators and I do not lobby individuals on behalf of AFT New Hampshire.”
Ley also questioned why NHPR was focusing on his involvement in AFT-NH.
“Why are you so fixated on AFT? I mean, why are you not dealing with any businesses or anything like that? I mean, that's what I find fascinating here,” Ley told NHPR during a phone interview, before requesting that those comments be removed from the record. (NHPR has reported on the intersection of other lawmakers’ interests with their work at the State House, including those with business interests. You can find some of that reporting here.)
Ley suggested he would end the interview when NHPR declined to retroactively take his comments off the record, but he eventually agreed to continue answering questions on the issue.
Some time spent on "political activities and lobbying"
Reports filed to the U.S. Department of Labor provide some additional insight into how Ley has spent his time as AFT-NH’s president. Certain labor organizations, including AFT-NH, must file these annual reports to disclose staff salaries and other information about how the organizations operate.
The most recent filing available for AFT-NH, covering the 2017-18 reporting year, show that Ley was paid $70,904 for his work with the union. The reports indicate that the vast majority of Ley’s time was spent on administrative or “representational work,” such as representing the union in contract negotiations. But they also show at least some of his time went toward “political activities and lobbying.”
The union reported the following breakdown of job responsibilities for Ley during that time period: 62 percent toward “administration,” 29 percent toward “representational activities” and 9 percent on “political activities and lobbying.”
Reports for prior years indicate that Ley spent 9 percent of his time on “political activities and lobbying” in 2016-17, 5 percent in 2015-16 and 2 percent in 2014-15.
Ley said none of his time allotted to “political activities and lobbying” was spent on State House lobbying. Instead, he said, it referred to his work on AFT-NH’s candidate endorsements. Ley said he has been involved in the candidate endorsement process for state and federal races in 2016 and 2018, as well as leading up to the 2020 presidential primary.
“Time credited for me under the political activities & lobbying category has been time spent on candidate endorsement processes, esp. with the presidential primaries and Federal general elections in 2016 and 2018,” Ley wrote in an email to NHPR.
Ley also said that he only began his term as AFT-NH president on July 1, 2016, and most of the work credited to him during the 2015-16 year was “for other work done for AFT-NH, not for serving as president.” He also said that during the prior year, 2014-15, he worked for the union “as a negotiator and an internal liaison to locals.”
AFT-NH’s reports to the federal government show that Ley has spent less time on “political activities and lobbying” than his predecessor. In her final year as AFT-NH’s president, Hainey spent 19 percent of her time on “political activities and lobbying” and earned a reported $133,197 in total compensation, according to the reports.
Ethics complaint under review
The Legislative Ethics Committee began reviewing a complaint regarding Ley’s involvement in AFT-NH in April. That complaint, filed by a Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Ley in 2018, asks the committee to consider whether Ley ran afoul of ethics rules by participating in legislative debates and voting on bills of interest to his union.
The complaint points to an opinion the ethics committee issued last year advising a Republican lawmaker that he would need to recuse himself from participating in legislative matters affecting the Children’s Scholarship Fund if he were to take a job with the organization.
“Disclosure of his conflict of interest in relation to his employment with CSF would not excuse or absolve his violation of these prohibitions,” the ethics committee wrote in its opinion on the matter.
The complaint against Ley asks the ethics committee to consider his actions on behalf of the teachers’ union in the context of the guidelines that were previously issued to his Republican colleague.