New Hampshire Democratic Party Files Right to Know Request on Mileage-gate
Concord, NH - In an email dated Thursday December 8th, Republican House Speaker Bill O'Brien offered thousands of dollars in taxpayer funded mileage reimbursement payments to Republican lawmakers who attended secret briefings on the Speaker's redistricting plan. [E-mail Text] Today, the New Hampshire Democratic Party filed a right to know request to discover exactly how much of New Hampshire taxpayers' hard earned money O'Brien handed out to Republicans in Concord. [Right to know request text]
"We'd like to present this plan to you [Republican House Reps], county by county, Friday December 9 and Monday December 12," wrote O'Brien. "Mileage will be paid to members who attend these county caucuses." But on the House Calendar published the following day, O'Brien wrote, "For the remainder of 2011...Mileage will not be paid on Mondays and Fridays except for statutory committees." [Calendar]
"Speaker O'Brien has a well deserved reputation for political cronyism," said Harrell Kirstein, press secretary for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "But even for him this is a new low. O'Brien doled out thousands of dollars in taxpayer to Republican Representatives who attended his secret political meetings in Concord."
The e-mail missive also said stated that "No written or take-home materials will be provided at these caucus meetings," and Representatives attending the secret meeting were sworn to secrecy. According to news reports, the Speaker's Office papered over the State House meeting room's windows. [TheLobbyNH.com, 12/9/2011]
Bipartisan estimates show that a typical session for the 400 members House costs approximately $14,000.00 in mileage reimbursements. [Union Leader, 11/18/2011] Mileage payments for a Republican caucus could cost taxpayers as much as $10,000.00 per day, or $20,000.00 for both of the secret closed door meetings.
"This is a horrendous waste of taxpayer money," continued Kirstein. "At at time when many New Hampshire families and small businesses are struggling Speaker O'Brien is using their tax dollars to fund his political agenda. That is shameful."
The full text of a story from TheLobbyNH.com on Mileage-gate can be found below.
Ethics questioned in O'Brien mileage payments
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
State Democratic leaders were livid Tuesday at learning House Republican lawmakers got paid mileage to see behind-closed-doors proposals for redistricting the entire, 400-person House of Representatives.
The Lobby confirmed that House Speaker William O'Brien offered mileage to members who attended redistricting sessions Friday and Monday despite a House policy against paying mileage on the first and last day of the work week to save money.
''Due to time constraints we were unable to set these dates out any further beyond Monday as the committee must approve a plan as soon as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience. Mileage will be paid to members who attend these county caucuses,'' O'Brien wrote.
Even the most recent House calendar stresses that mileage is not to be paid on Mondays and Fridays except for statutory committees - of which the redistricting panel is not one.
House Information Officer Shannon Shutts stressed the edict on mileage is the speaker's own policy and this instance does not represent the violation of any binding rule or regulation
''I wouldn't say so since the austerity measure was the Speaker's decision in the first place...it wasn't a rule or regulation per se, so I don't think he could be said to be in 'violation' of anything,'' Shutts said.
''The Speaker felt it was important for Committee Chairman Paul Mirski to be able to hold those caucuses to get input from the members, and Friday and Monday were the only days that worked scheduling wise. ''
Harrell Kirstein, spokesman for the NH Democratic Party, said the mileage could have cost as much as $20,000 and could even represent breaking an ethics rule.
"Once again we see how out of touch Speaker O'Brien really is, using public money to fund a private political meeting in Concord,'' Kirstein said. ''This is a reckless and ethically questionable waste of $20,000 in taxpayer money and the people of New Hampshire deserve a refund."
State Democratic leaders were upset to learn Tuesday that the House GOP redistricting plan was still subject to change and would not be revealed in advance of a subcommittee meeting this Thursday.
"Democrats on the committee expected the Republican leadership plan to be presented today. Instead, we are told the plan still is not ready. That gives the public only 24 hours to analyze the plan, see how it affects them, and prepare comments for public testimony the next day," said Barrington Democratic Rep. Bob Perry.
"We have had the census numbers for nine months and we're giving the public 24 hours for review and comment. This is not the kind of transparency promised by Republican leadership."
The Lobby already reported that House GOP leaders have circulated redistricting plans that carve up parts of cities including Nashua, Manchester, Concord and Keene and lump a city ward in with neighboring towns.