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Jim Kenyon: Some New Hampshire legislators being bought by the badge

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 1/23/2021 10:28:48 PM
Modified: 1/23/2021 10:28:48 PM

Cops are quick to claim their overarching mission is to protect and serve. In New Hampshire, they’re pretty good at playing politics too.

Over the years, New Hampshire’s state troopers, municipal police officers and police chiefs have used their nonprofit entities to funnel thousands of dollars into lobbying the Legislature and supporting the campaigns of pet lawmakers.

With the 2021 legislative session barely underway, law enforcement groups are already hard at work to pass Senate Bill 39, which would shield cops from increased public scrutiny. The proposed legislation would override a pair of 2020 state Supreme Court decisions intended to improve the odds of the public gaining access to internal investigations into police misconduct, under the state’s right-to-know law. Investigations, by the way, that are paid for with taxpayers’ dollars.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Marc Beaudoin, president of the New Hampshire Troopers Association, said his organization wants to be “transparent, but we also want to protect our members at the same time.” (The Troopers Association is the union that represents state police.)

The bill’s backers, which includes the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police, say the Supreme Court has opened the door for cops’ home addresses and other personal information to become public.

It’s simply not true. State law already provides safeguards that protect private information in public employees’ personnel files from being released.

But Sen. Sharon Carson, the Londonderry Republican who is sponsoring the bill, is still willing to carry water for cops. At Tuesday’s hearing, Carson, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said “just because you become a police officer, doesn’t mean you give up your constitutional rights.”

That’s a red herring. What Carson’s bill actually does is bar disclosure of internal police investigations, including those that have turned up no misconduct.

“There is a compelling public interest in disclosing internal employee investigations regardless of the outcome so the public can vet and evaluate the integrity of the investigation,” Gilles Bissonnette, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, wrote in an email.

Carson’s bill “operates on the assumption that all government investigations are comprehensive and accurate without providing the public with any window into this process,” Bissonnette added.

After the hearing, I called David Saad, president of Right to Know New Hampshire, a grassroots citizen watchdog group that’s been around since 2013.

“A lot of this has to do with the (police) unions,” Saad told me. “They want to protect their membership from any negative publicity. They don’t want to have their dirty laundry aired in public.”

Saad, an information technology consultant who lives in Rumney, hopes the Senate bill “doesn’t go anywhere,” but it will be an uphill fight. “What really bothers me is the undue influence” that law enforcement groups have on some legislators, he said.

Saad points to Carson, a 20-year legislative veteran who, according to her website, is “known as the hardest working state senator.” Law enforcement groups “have her ear,” he said.

My attempts to reach Carson by email and phone last week were unsuccessful.

A tried and true method to get a politician’s attention is to write them campaign checks. In 2020, the New Hampshire Troopers Association and the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association each contributed $1,000 to Carson’s reelection campaign, according to reports she filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. The New Hampshire Police Association, which is made up of municipal officers, contributed $500. (Carson finished her campaign with more than $55,000 in contributions.)

Leading up to the 2018 and 2020 elections, a New Hampshire PAC called Law Enforcement for Justice contributed $1,000 each time to Carson’s reelection efforts, campaign finance reports show.

The political action committee did the same for Senate President Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, and three Democratic senators from Manchester — Lou D’Allesandro, Kevin Cavanaugh and Donna Soucy, a former Senate president. In 2020, the PAC added Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican, to its list of favorites, contributing $500 to his campaign.

Where did Law Enforcement for Justice get the nearly $12,000 it doled out in the two most recent election cycles?

Campaign finance records show the New Hampshire Troopers Association has been bankrolling the PAC. Beaudoin, a labor attorney who heads up the troopers union, is chairman and treasurer of Law Enforcement for Justice, according to the PAC’s most recent filing with the secretary of state.

Last week, I tried to contact Beaudoin by phone and email, but I didn’t hear back.

In searching state records online, I didn’t come across anything that indicated the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police had given money to candidates during the 2020 election cycle.

Apparently, the nonprofit prefers to use its money in other ways to promote its political agenda.

In 2018, the chiefs’ group spent $39,000 on lobbying, according to its most recent IRS filing. Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group, a Concord lobbying firm, works on behalf of the association, which has 170 current chiefs and more than 250 retired chiefs as members.

Plenty of professions, including teachers, bankers and doctors, make sizable campaign contributions and employ lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers.

It’s a national pastime.

But are New Hampshire cops really this tone-deaf?

Across the country, people are clamoring for police reform. The deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and George Floyd in Minneapolis have the public demanding that police become more transparent.

Instead of trying to derail the effort, cops in New Hampshire might want to get on board.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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