Conflicted Debate? Analysis Calls Out NH Reps. for Ties to Marijuana, Energy
CONCORD (AP) — A national analysis of financial disclosure forms and legislative records highlights two possible conflicts of interest in New Hampshire, but the lawmakers involved say they did nothing improper.
The Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press found that at least 76 percent of state lawmakers across the country reported outside income or employment in 2015. While that might give lawmakers expertise in certain policy areas, many of those income sources are directly affected by the actions of the legislatures.
The review was based on an analysis of disclosure reports from 6,933 lawmakers in the 47 states that required them. It found numerous examples of state lawmakers who have introduced and supported legislation that directly and indirectly helped their own businesses, their employers or their personal finances. The practice is enabled by limited disclosure requirements for personal financial information and self-policing that often excuses seemingly blatant conflicts.
New Hampshire Rep. Bart Fromuth, R-Bedford, runs a utility management company called Energy Logistics. He sponsored two bills to repeal the state's renewable portfolio standard, which applies to some of his clients and requires electricity providers to obtain 25 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2025. Those that don't meet the goals must purchase renewable energy credits or pay a penalty.
Fromuth filed paperwork noting the conflict of interest but indicating he still intended to participate in the debate. He said because his company also sells energy credits, if anything, repealing the standard would hurt him financially.
"We make a decent amount of revenue from playing in that market space, so if anything, it's a profit center for my business," he said.
One of the bills was tabled and died in the House. The other, which was amended to create new reporting requirements for the credits instead of repealing the standard, was sent back to committee for further study.
Acknowledging that "we're never going to repeal the RPS," Fromuth said his main goal was highlighting that in many years, money generated by the renewable portfolio standard has been used to plug holes in the state budget, instead of subsidizing renewable energy projects.
"On the outside, it looks great, like we're making sure we're investing in renewables, but the truth of the matter is, that money goes to the government, and the government decides what to do with it," he said. "From a policy standpoint, it deserves conversation."
In the other case, former Rep. Joe Lachance, a R-Manchester, sponsored multiple bills to expand the types of conditions covered by the state's medical marijuana law. He listed himself as owner of a cannabis consulting business on his disclosure but said he never opened the business, just registered the name.
"There's no business there; it's nothing but a title," he said. "There was no money."
Lachance, who lost his 2016 re-election bid, said he was trying to help fellow disabled veterans. He blames the veterans affairs medical system for getting him addicted to opioids to manage his chronic pain.
"Cannabis saved my life," he said. "So I made it a mission to expand the law."