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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nashua’s lobbyist should be registered

Telegraph Editorial

The city of Nashua’s website states that “The City of Nashua contracts with David Alukonis, a registered New Hampshire lobbyist to act as a liaison between Concord and Nashua.”

The city does, in fact, have a contract with Alukonis, a former state representative from Hudson who once chaired the House Ways and Means Committee. ...

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The city of Nashua’s website states that “The City of Nashua contracts with David Alukonis, a registered New Hampshire lobbyist to act as a liaison between Concord and Nashua.”

The city does, in fact, have a contract with Alukonis, a former state representative from Hudson who once chaired the House Ways and Means Committee.

Alukonis has a contract to receive $14,000 per year and reports to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau at regular meetings. The letter that details the scope of services Alukonis is contracted to perform for the city makes him look like a lobbyist in word and deed.

He tracks legislation and meets with the city’s legislative delegation to “manage and coordinate communication between (the) city and legislative delegation,” according to the letter.

But despite what the city’s website says, Alukonis is not a registered lobbyist. He used to be. In 2012, he was registered to represent Nashua and Manchester, but he’s not currently registered as a lobbyist and the city calls him a “legislative facilitator.”

“It was determined it was more of a communications effort than lobbying,” Alukonis said in an interview, when asked why he was no longer registered.

The mayor claims that Alukonis doesn’t lobby for the city, but it seems clear that Alukonis does a lot of the same things most lobbyists do. That includes the New Hampshire Municipal Association, a consortium of cities and towns that Nashua taxpayers are already paying $25,000 a year.

In fairness, lobbying isn’t all the NHMA does. They also offer seminars for their members – like the one scheduled for next month to teach officials in member towns how to hold nonpublic sessions – but lobbying is a big part of the NHMA’s role.

The difference between Alukonis’ role and that of a registered lobbyist? Because he’s not registered, Alukonis isn’t required to wear a big bright orange “Lobbyist” badge when he walks the hall of the Statehouse keeping tabs on Nashua’s legislative delegation. He acknowledged in an interview this week that whether he should be registered is “a gray area.”

We think he should be.

The law makes it clear that someone should be registered if they “promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, any legislation pending or proposed before the general court.”

Alukonis’ work for the city seems to fit that description, without falling into any of the exempt categories.

“In many ways, I don’t see a difference,” between the role of Alukonis and the NHMA, said Sen. Peggy Gilmour, D-Hollis, who represents part of Nashua in her district. “I would pick up the phone and call either one of them on certain issues.”

Alukonis said he doesn’t do much in the way of legislative arm-twisting, but his contract clearly calls for him to represent Nashua by coordinating and communicating with the city’s legisaltive delegation on certain bills. Some of them are high profile bills – the city took a position on increasing the gas tax and killing the casino gambling bill, for instance – and some are more obscure. Either way, Alukonis is part of the process by which the mayor’s office attempts to influence the outcome of bills by influencing the city’s legislative delegation. He is an agent of the city in that regard.

In fact, Alukonis’ letter of understanding with the city – which was written in 2012 – stated that he would likely have to register as a lobbyist with the state, and he did for a time.

We think it proper that he should again.

There is no shame in lobbying. Talk to most lawmakers about the role of lobbyists and they will tell you that they serve as vital repositories of information on a range of issues.

In that respect, Nashua is wise to have someone looking out for the city’s interests in Concord, and we don’t doubt that Alukonis’ background makes him qualified to be the city’s advocate on legislative matters. He has been through the process and understands it.

But the fact that he’s not registered makes the arrangement look less than fully transparent, and we’re sure nobody wants that.