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Offer of Free Air Fare Sparks Investigation Into Dem Tactics in Parents Rights Fight

New Hampshire House Speaker Sherm Packard (R-Londonderry) has ordered an investigation into tactics being used by House Democrats to pressure members over Thursday’s vote on parental rights legislation. Some of those tactics, including offering to pay for a member’s plane ticket for a flight from Florida, appear to violate House rules and, possibly, state law.

“We are looking into the matter, and we are concerned about the appearance of impropriety. Should there be evidence of a statutory or ethical violation, it will be referred to the appropriate enforcement authority,” Packard’s office said in a statement. 

At the center of the controversy is SB272, also known as the Parents Bill of Rights, which would force some public schools to end their current policy of refusing to answer parents’ questions about their children’s behavior regarding sex and gender.

“It says that schools and school employees cannot lie to parents,” said state Sen. Tim Lang (R-Sanbornton) when the bill passed the upper chamber in a 14-10 vote.

Now the bill is coming to the House, setting off a round of fear and loathing in Concord with Democrats offering carrots (in the form of a free plane ticket) and sticks: threatening a primary challenge if a House member supports the parents’ rights bill or fails to show up for the vote.

When Rep. Robin Vogt (D-Portsmouth) took to Twitter to say he was on a long-planned family vacation and won’t be in Concord to vote against SB272, Granite State progressives responded angrily.

“There is no one who supports a work/life balance more than me — but real allies show up,” tweeted Monica Venzke, until recently a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party. “Session ends in June. When you were elected, you knew that. These are the responsibilities you take on as a legislator; clearly, you cannot handle them.”

And progressive activist Linds Jakows told Vogt he had no excuse to miss Thursday’s session, as money is available to fly him back to New Hampshire in time to vote.

“No. It is a luxury to actively choose to be in Florida for nearly a week now when there are funds to fly you to New Hampshire and back,” Jakows wrote to Vogt in a now-deleted tweet.

Jakows is head of 603Equality, an LGBTQ nonprofit which is not registered as a lobbyist with the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, and it appears she’s offering something of value to a lawmaker to encourage him to vote. Not surprisingly, 603Equality’s behavior sparked concerns.

“I am outraged that an unregistered Democrat lobbying organization would offer to fund travel expenses for a legislator in order to influence the outcome of a vote,” said House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn). “The ease at which this was offered leads us to believe that offers like Jakows’ seem to be the norm on the other side of the aisle.

“This is an example of Washington-style politics at its worst and does not represent Granite State values,” Osborne added.

It could also be a crime. Legal sources pointed NHJournal to New Hampshire’s criminal codes 640:2 “Bribery in Official and Political Matters;” and 640:5 “Gifts to Public Servants.”

Jakows declined to respond to questions from NHJournal regarding the source of these “funds” to pay for legislators’ travel or whether other lawmakers are getting funding as well. In a follow-up tweet, Jakows claimed a group of concerned community members was crowdfunding the money, though Jakows would not say who those people were.

“How many members of the New Hampshire House Democrats will be there tomorrow to vote against parental rights because a lobbying group paid for them to be there?” asked Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “Probably worth finding out.”

Thus far, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office is staying out of the drama, saying Wednesday it is currently a matter of the Speaker’s Office.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are also being threatened by a representative of one of the state’s largest teacher’s unions, who warned not showing up or voting the wrong way could result in a primary challenge.

“ANY @NHSenateDems and @NHHouseDems who do not make a point to show up to vote NO on #SB272 and stand UP for young #queer lives on the line do not deserve our support,” tweeted Ryan Richman, vice president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “Especially if they primaried out @NHDems that showed up to protect Granite Staters from evil.”

Vogt pushed out long-time Democratic Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts in last year’s Democratic primary and won favor with the AFT. The union endorsed him in the general election.

Vogt now faces the prospect of being pushed to take dark money plane tickets, which may or may not be legal, and could be made an example of by his union benefactors and see his political career cut short.

What is unique about Vogt’s drama is the public display of the pressure brought to bear on one representative, leaving voters to guess how many other representatives were being threatened and offered financial benefits behind closed doors. Or at least off Twitter.

Vogt, still vacationing, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pappas Signed ‘No Fossil Fuel Money’ Pledge, Took Money from Nord Stream Lobbyist

Just a week after Granite Staters learned U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan received a $2,900 donation from the lead lobbyist for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline comes word U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas also received a check from the same man.

The difference? Pappas signed a pledge not to take it.

“A major Democratic donor and Nord Stream 2 lobbyist has made maximum campaign contributions this year to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and vulnerable Senate Democrats, campaign finance records show,” according to Axios.

The donor is Vincent Roberti of Roberti Global. Politico reports his firm earned more than $9 million in lobbying revenues from Nord Stream 2 since 2017.

Among his donations: $2,900 — the maximum primary contribution — to Hassan this cycle; and $2,500 to Pappas for his 2020 re-election campaign.

The latter is problematic because Pappas has signed the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge organized by Oil Change U.S., a political 501(c)4 organization associated with the 350 environmental group, as well as the Sunrise Movement, Evergreen Action, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Working Families Party, Greenpeace USA, Indivisible, and People’s Action. 

Part of the pledge involves not taking more than $200 in donations from any individual associated with the oil and gas industry, including lobbyists.

“The No Fossil Fuel Money pledge includes rejecting contributions from the federal and state-registered lobbyists of fossil fuel companies. This includes ‘in-house’ registered lobbyists who work directly for oil, gas, and coal companies, and outside registered lobbyists registered to lobby for one or more fossil fuel industry clients while employed by external lobbying firms,” the No Fossil Fuel Money FAQ page states

Representatives for Oil Change U.S. did not respond to a request for comment. However, according to the pledge website, the group should at least be investigating Pappas’ Roberti donation. If Pappas does not return the money he can be removed from the list of politicians who took the pledge. 

“If a violation has occurred, the coalition will notify the politician and give them one week to return the contribution(s) in question, as noted above. If the politician returns the contribution, they will remain on the pledge. If not, they will be removed from the list of pledge signers” the website states.

Pappas is still listed as a signer on the pledge website. His office did not respond to a request for comment. It also declined to say whether Pappas would return the contribution.

Pappas’ fellow liberals, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) have used the no-fossil-fuel-money pledge as a campaign talking point and fundraiser. According to the pledge website, politicians are encouraged to raise money off the fact they signed the pledge.

“Many politicians have used the pledge-signing moment as an opportunity to highlight their commitment, by publicly sharing a photo of signing the pledge, releasing a short campaign video explaining their reasoning, or even sending out a fundraising appeal based on the pledge,” the website states.

“Congressman Pappas needs to immediately return this contribution and explain to New Hampshire voters his support for Biden administration policies that have made Americans and the world less safe,” said Gail Huff Brown, one of the Republicans running for a chance to challenge the incumbent Democrat this November. “It’s time for Chris Pappas to go,” Brown said.

It also raises new questions about Pappas’ claims to be a climate advocate. After years of calling climate change is “an existential threat” and voting to raise taxes on oil and gas companies, Pappas now says he supports increased fossil fuel production and an “all of the above” — oil, gas,  and nuclear — energy policy.

Political observers say Pappas’ reversal is a result of the rising cost of gasoline and home heating oil, which are adding to the inflation problem that has emerged as the top issue for American voters.

Republican critics like Karoline Leavitt, who’s also running in the GOP primary, say it’s a sign Pappas can’t be trusted.

“Chris Pappas has broken nearly every promise he has made to the people of New Hampshire – whether it’s being an independent bipartisan voice yet voting with AOC 90 percent of the time, promising our law enforcement officers that he would protect qualified immunity but voting to strip it, or pledging to our business owners to never vote for a $15 federal minimum wage but doing it anyway,” Leavitt said.