FILE - New Hampshire State Capitol (House of Representatives)

The New Hampshire House of Representatives at the Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire.  

New Hampshire's Legislative Ethics Committee has ruled that a top House Democrat was in violation of ethics guidelines when he cast votes on legislation that affected the teachers union for which he works as president.

House Majority Leader Douglas Ley, D-Jaffrey, has been in the Legislature since 2012, and has served as president of the American Federation of Teachers’ New Hampshire branch since 2016.

“The Committee finds that holding a paid position in an organization with the expectation that one will advocate for that organization can put that legislator in a position contrary to the purpose of the Ethics Guidelines,” Ethics Committee Chair Edward Gordon wrote in the resolution.

Given that Ley did not appear to have intentionally violated any rules, the committee decided on an informal resolution, providing that as long as Ley is employed by the union, “you will properly recuse yourself from participating in any legislative activities which may have a direct benefit to your employer or to the union membership.”

The complaint, which was brought earlier this year by Christopher Mazerall, a Republican opponent against Ley in the 2018 election, asked the ethics committee to look at whether Ley was violating state House rules by taking part in government matters that directly affect his employer.

In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Ley said he would abide by the committee’s decision.

“I believed at the time I handled them in a correct manner,” Ley said of the votes under consideration in the ethics committee’s ruling. “The committee now has suggested, they would state, that I should have done things somewhat differently. I accept that.”

While the Ethics Committee acknowledged Ley broke House rules, it also acknowledged the rules are not always entirely clear.

“The Committee recognizes that the Ethics Guidelines are not always easily understood and are subject to interpretation,” the committee wrote. “There is no bright line set out in the Ethics Guidelines establishing when recusal is required. Perhaps that is a matter for the Legislature to address in the future.”

A statement from House Minority Leader Richard Hinch, R-Merrimack, posted on Seacoast Online, argued that the decision to move to a resolution without formal sanctions does not mitigate “a litany of questionable activity and votes by the majority leader that appear to have been in violation of ethics guidelines.”

“The speaker of the House should see how poorly this reflects on his administration and the House, to have a ruling of this nature against his top lieutenant,” Hinch said. “This is just another example of a double standard in the House of Representatives when the speaker allows people in his inner circle to continue to serve in leadership roles, while he punishes Republicans for relatively minor infractions.”