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Letter: A Different View of ‘Gifts’

To the Editor:

I am the legislator who asked for a ruling from the Ethics Committee on the topic addressed by the Concord Monitor editorial you published Oct. 14. My question was whether leaders of relevant committees could attend, for free, celebratory events of groups such as the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. I did so because the BIA has been inviting the House speaker, Senate president and the chairmen of Ways and Means and probably Commerce for years. They also invite, for free, heads of the state’s chambers of commerce.

A decision last term exempted the speaker and president from gift restrictions but left open the question of relevant chairmen. I didn’t particularly care which way the answer went. I’m not fond of huge gatherings, and to attend I need to pay for a hotel to sleep over in Concord. But it is instructive to talk with businessmen from other parts of the state about committee issues, and I feel that in a major gathering of much of the state’s business community, Ways and Means chairmen should be present and listening. I earn $100 a year from this job plus mileage (when I don’t sleep over in Concord) and spend much more than that on hotels, communications, food, copying and transportation. I balk at paying $125 to attend, so I asked the Ethics Committee to decide.

Lobbying in the New Hampshire House is different from that in many state capitols. Chairmen have no power to bottle up bills or pick who testifies, and they can find themselves outvoted in committee. We have few staff, so a lot of our information comes from lobbyists — for business, hospitals, plumbers, Planned Parenthood, Nature Conservancy, Americans for Prosperity, Citizens Alliance, etc. Newcomers learn which lobbyists never lie, which hide inconvenient facts and which distort them. Older hands learn to negotiate with the lobbyists, because they are a convenient channel back to the interests they represent. For each of us, representing our core interests (for me, adequate funding of public services) demands interaction with and understanding of the key players, and businesses are an essential part for Ways and Means.

Rep. Susan Almy, D

Chairwoman, House Ways and Means

Lebanon

Related

Editorial: When a Gift Is Not a Gift

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A state ethics law bars New Hampshire lawmakers from accepting gifts worth $25 or more — but that won’t stop them from happily taking free tickets worth $125 apiece to attend a fancy dinner put on by the Business and Industry Association in Manchester later this month. Does that sound kosher to you? The Legislative Ethics Committee voted 6-0 recently …