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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bragdon receives “letter of caution” for holding $180,000 job with LGC while remaining a state senator

CONCORD – The Legislative Ethics Committee offered to close the book on allegations against State Sen. Peter Bragdon Monday in a mild, “letter of caution” warning he studiously avoid lawmaking business conflicts with his job as CEO of the former Local Government Center.

Bragdon, R-Milford, has until Friday to decide if he will sign the caution letter as an informal resolution to two of the five ethics charges Concord Democratic State Rep. Rick Watrous lodged against him last fall. If Bragdon does not agree, this portion of the case heads to a formal hearing. ...

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CONCORD – The Legislative Ethics Committee offered to close the book on allegations against State Sen. Peter Bragdon Monday in a mild, “letter of caution” warning he studiously avoid lawmaking business conflicts with his job as CEO of the former Local Government Center.

Bragdon, R-Milford, has until Friday to decide if he will sign the caution letter as an informal resolution to two of the five ethics charges Concord Democratic State Rep. Rick Watrous lodged against him last fall. If Bragdon does not agree, this portion of the case heads to a formal hearing.

Last week, the panel cleared Bragdon of any intentional wrongdoing and dismissed three charges outright.

These two still at issue question whether he violated the ethics guidelines in seeking the $180,000-a-year job and whether getting paid the salary itself was an illegal gift.

Bragdon said he had yet to confide in his attorney, former Ethics Commission Chairman Russell Hilliard, but would easily make his decision on whether to sign the letter by the deadline.

In its three-page letter, Ethics Committee Chairman Martin Gross writes that Bragdon “misunderstood” that merely declaring he had a potential conflict of interest running HealthTrust Inc. and serving as a state senator was not enough to absolve him of an ethical dilemma.

Lawmakers are prohibited from taking any paying position from an entity knowing the same organization was going to have legislation pending before his or her political body.

Yet the conflict of interest procedure for lawmakers permits them to have private positions if their actions at those jobs are “unrelated” to any legislative activity.

The panel said any alleged violations by Bragdon “can be viewed as inadvertent” because it had never described this kind of relationship before in a previous official action.

In this letter of caution, the committee advises Bragdon that he should not take part in any legislative action affecting his employer, while on the job he must physically be absent when the employer is discussing legislative actions and not have any role with HealthTrust in its dealings with state regulators.

“Even so, to lessen the possibility that your continued employment by HealthTrust may generate prohibited, official activity on your part as a state senator, as a condition of informal resolution, the committee will require this as long as you remain in the Senate,” the committee wrote.

Initially, Bragdon said he would remain as Senate president while accepting this job to run an insurance risk pool that manages health care insurance coverage for local and county governments.

On Aug. 16, three days after taking the job, Bragdon changed his mind and announced he would step down as Senate president to avoid the any appearance of a conflict of interest.

The Senate replaced Bragdon as president with Salem Republican Sen. Chuck Morse.

A few weeks later on Sept. 1, the LGC completed a reorganization splitting off into three, not-for-profit corporations.

Bragdon runs the most financially lucrative one, HealthTrust Inc. that with more than $400 million in assets is one of the five, biggest risk pools for public employee health insurance in the country.

Last week, Bragdon said he looks forward to reviewing the committee’s letter and said its decision was a relief.

“I am very relieved that the subject is either closed or heading towards closure and quite pleased at the unanimous dismissal of three of the counts,” Bragdon said.

“I think that vindicated my position. I have tried my best to conform with the ethics laws and guidelines.”

On each of the five actions, the vote was 7-0 of the committee.

Bragdon said the state’s ethics laws and guidelines are “byzantine,” lead to differing interpretations and are difficult for lawmakers to decipher.

He’s glad a study commission has been meeting more than a year on ways to overhaul the ethical operating rules for legislators.

“They are byzantine, sometimes they are contradictory,” Bragdon said.

“It can be a discouragement for folks that want to run for office. In my case, I will have spent several thousand dollars on legal fees because somebody thinks I have done something wrong,” Bragdon said.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).