Letter to Bragdon lawyer seeks to clear up proposed settlement on ethics charges

CONCORD – Sen. Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, accepted the Legislative Ethics Committee’s offer to settle two charges against him on Friday, Feb. 14, signing a strongly-worded caution that he avoid lawmaking conflicts with his $180,000-a-year job as CEO of the former Local Government Center.

“Hopefully, we can move on and I can keep doing what I’ve always been doing,” Bragdon said.

During an interview, Bragdon said ethics panel Chairman Martin Gross’ letter mirrored the separation between his job and Senate duties he’s observed since he agreed last July to head HealthTrust Inc., one of the largest public insurance risk pools in the country.

“His response helped elaborate on the initial proposal and confirmed for us it didn’t seem much different at all from what I have always done,” Bragdon said.

The former Senate president admitted he added to the confusion by signing a declaration of conflict form last November when the Senate took up whether to expand Medicaid.

Bragdon said he was acting in the abundance of caution and that there wasn’t a conflict with his job and Medicaid.

At the time, Bragdon said he didn’t realize that signing that form meant that he probably shouldn’t vote on the matter.

The Senate rejected Medicaid expansion and Bragdon joined all 12 other GOP senators to oppose it.

“I know that form kind of confused things but this informal resolution clears all that up,” Bragdon said.

The ethics panel had given Bragdon until Friday, Feb. 14, at noon to decide whether to accept the offer or face a public hearing on two remaining charges brought against him.

The two remaining ones were whether he violated the ethics guidelines in seeking the $180,000-a-year job knowing the LGC would be seeking legislative support and whether getting paid the salary was an illegal gift.

Earlier this month, the panel cleared Bragdon of any intentional wrongdoing and dismissed three charges outright that Concord Democratic State Rep. Rick Watrous had lodged.

“It is important to point out that the Legislative Ethics Committee did not find there had been any ethics violation on my part,” Bragdon said in a statement.

“The committee’s proposal serves only to reinforce those steps I have taken to separate myself from state matters involving my employer.”

As a five-term senator and ex-House member, Bragdon, 50, said this ordeal won’t affect whether he seeks another two-year term in the Senate this fall.

Bragdon will complete this summer his one-year contract with HealthTrust, which runs for an additional year automatically if neither side acts by the end of this June.

But Bragdon said a less-experienced or new legislator might come through such a controversy and decide serving in the Legislature isn’t worth it.

“For someone new, it is another thing to discourage them from being involved,” Bragdon added.

Two weeks ago, Bragdon’s lawyer, Russell Hilliard of Concord, had questioned whether the initial offer from the ethics panel was “overbroad and unnecessary.”

Last week, Chairman Gross defended that offer and said it’s not subject to any further negotiation.

“The purpose of the conditions is to assure that as long as Senator Bragdon remains in the Senate, his position as such cannot in any way be used to benefit his employer,” Gross wrote. “That is why the conditions are broadly worded – they are intended to isolate Senator Bragdon from his employer’s relations with the Senate.”

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