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AG Issues Cease and Desist Order to Nashua Mayor and Dems Over Illegal Electioneering

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office issued a cease and desist order to Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess and three fellow Democrats on the city’s board of aldermen over their use of public property to promote their side of a 2021 political debate.

The issue was Proposition 2, which would make substantial changes to the way the city’s police commission is composed.

The government property used was the city’s PEG, or public access TV channels and equipment, which the Attorney General’s Office ruled Donchess and the aldermen used to campaign for their political views.

“Following an investigation, this Office determined that each of your messages constituted electioneering because your messages were specifically designed to influence the votes of voters on Ballot Question 2,” Assistant Attorney General Brendan O’Donnell wrote in the order dated Jan. 11. 

“The Mayor of Nashua and its alderman… remain subject to the prohibition against using government property or equipment to electioneer. Accordingly, this Office orders each of you to cease and desist from using city property, including but not limited to the City’s PEG channels and cable television equipment, to electioneer.”

O’Donnell’s order is directed at Donchess and Aldermen Ben Clemmons, Michael O’Brien, and Lori Wilshire. But Donchess told NHJournal he and his fellow Democrats had every right to take to the airwaves.

“I think (the letter) ignores First Amendment issues,” Donchess said.

Laura Colquhoun, the Nashua resident who filed the complaint, said Donchess and the others clearly broke the law.

“Please understand that political people should not be using public TV stations to sell their message to residents. If it was a debate with both parties showing up, that would not be a problem. However, when you only have one side going on the TV station, that is electioneering, and that is against the law,” Colquhoun told NHJournal.

In 2021, Nashua voters were set to vote on Proposition 2, which would make substantial changes to the way the city’s police commission is composed. Nashua is one of a handful of New Hampshire municipalities where an independent commission oversees the police department.

Nashua is unique in that the three civilian members of its commission are appointed by the Governor’s Office and confirmed by the Executive Council, not by local representatives like the mayor or board of aldermen. Donchess backed Proposition 2 to take back local control of commission appointments.

Under Proposition 2, the commission would be expanded to five members, with three appointed by the mayor, and two appointed by the board. All of the appointments would require board confirmation.

Donchess used Nashua’s local cable access station to make his case for the changes, recording a 15-minute presentation that aired 25 times before the municipal election. Clemmons, Wilshire, and O’Brien recorded their own separate presentation opposing Proposition 2.

“We never intended to do anything wrong,” O’Brien told the news site InDepth NH.

Proposition 2 ended up losing at the ballot box. Colquhoun later used the presentations for her complaint. O’Donnell’s cease and desist letter acknowledges that state law includes an exemption for public officials appearing in a news or information program. It states that while the separate presentations produced and aired by the politicians were a violation, if Donchess and the aldermen participated in a debate about Proposition 2 and had that broadcast on the station, they would not be violating the law.

O’Donnell’s cease and desist letter makes no sense, Donchess said. Both he and the three aldermen have an absolute free speech right to speak on political issues of concern to Nashua citizens.

“Both I and members of the Board of Aldermen were attempting to inform the voters about what the issues were pertaining to the ballot questions,” Donchess said.

Why two separate, competing presentations are against the law, but a debate on a particular issue is OK also makes no sense, Donchess said. It would still see elected officials making their arguments for an election issue on public cable. 

“I do not see a distinction between (a debate) and the two presentations on the police commission,” Donchess said. 

Fake ‘Biden’ Robocall Targets Dem Voters, But Who Benefits?

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is investigating an AI-generated robocall that appears to feature President Joe Biden telling Democrats to skip the First in the Nation presidential primary.

Formella’s office says the calls “appear to be an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters.” Gov. Chris Sununu called the messages “voter impression and illegal,” and he said he’s spoken to Formella about prosecuting the responsible parties “to the fullest extent of the law.”

But who is behind the calls? The message doesn’t include a disclaimer. And what is their motive? Are they trying to keep Democrat-leaning unaffiliated voters from voting for Nikki Haley in the Republican primary? Or is the goal to keep registered Democrats at home rather than voting in their own party’s primary, where Biden needs write-in votes to prevent an embarrassing outcome?

“This coming Tuesday is the New Hampshire presidential preference primary. Republicans have been trying to push non-partisan and Democratic voters to participate in their primary. What a bunch of malarky,” the fake Biden voice voice says. “We know the value of voting Democratic when our votes count. It’s important that you save your vote for the November election.”

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Monday that the voice on the call is not President Joe Biden.

The robocall spoofed the cell phone number associated with former New Hampshire Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan, who is leading the “Write In Biden” campaign. (Biden refused to allow his name to appear on the New Hampshire ballot after failing to force Granite State Democrats to give up their “First in the Nation” status.)

Sullivan would not respond to requests for comment from NHJournal, but she told NBC News, “It’s obviously somebody who wants to hurt Joe Biden.”

Discouraging unaffiliated voters who lean Democrat from participating in the GOP primary might hurt Nikki Haley and help Donald Trump. But how would it hurt Biden? Targeting registered Democrats would have no impact on the GOP primary at all since they cannot vote in the Republican contest.

Depending on who is targeted, notes veteran GOP strategist Dave Carney, it’s just as likely that phone calls trying to keep Democrats from voting on Tuesday would help Biden.

“It’s impossible to know who did it — it could be some hacker in his basement. But if you ask who benefits, it’s Joe Biden,” Carney said.

Efforts to rescue Biden from his decision to skip the First in the Nation primary could suffer a setback if enough fed-up Democrats follow the example of North Country progressive Theodore Bosen. He received the fake call, and he tells NHJournal he plans to vote in his party’s primary for U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.)

“Half the reason I’m voting for Phillips is how pissed off I am over what the DNC and Biden have done to the First in the Nation primary,” Bosen said. “It’s terrible for the whole process –we are the best state, historically, to vet the candidates, particularly Democrats.”

Bosen also said he is motivated by his opposition to Biden’s support for Israel in its ongoing war against Hamas inside Gaza. “What’s going on in Gaza with our money and our support is a war crime,” Bosen said. “And there isn’t a viable candidate who is even talking about it.”

If anger with Biden over the First in the Nation primary state or his Israel policy drives Democrats to the polls, the write-in effort has to match those numbers to keep Biden from being embarrassed in his party’s primary. The write-in effort isn’t organic; it’s organized. So the fewer Democrats that show up, the larger a percentage of the total the write-in will be.

The latest University of New Hampshire Survey shows the percentage of Democrats who say they plan to write in Biden has been slipping and now is down to the low 60s.

“Low turnout makes their write-in votes a bigger slice of the pie,” Carney said. 

But Democrats like Sullivan and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan insist Biden was the target.

“I urge Granite Staters to make sure their friends and neighbors know the truth and turn out in even bigger numbers to write in President Biden’s name,” Hassan said in a statement.

Bosen agrees.

“I thought it was Trump, in part because [the fake Biden] talks about Democrats and independents taking part in the Republican primary,” Bosen said. “Only Trump thinks Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. He’s said it about five times in the last week.”

Bosen thinks the call has less to do with Biden than former Ambassador Nikki Haley. Haley’s push to take on Trump in the GOP primary is going to need all the undeclared voters it can get. The call is probably a Trump trick designed to keep those undeclared voters from helping her win, Bosen said.

“We all know independents are her only shot,” Bosen said. 

If the call did come from a Biden ally, Bosen believes, it’s because the campaign sees numbers that are not so good for the incumbent president, and they’re feeling pressure from rising support for Phillips.

“It’s a schizophrenic strategy,” Bosen said. “Biden’s biggest blunder was for him to condone the write-in. (He) is screwed if Phillips does well.”

State Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook), former Speaker of the House, is also backing Phillips.

“Dean Philips has the educational and business experience to be an outstanding president. As President Kennedy said at his inauguration, “Let the word go forth to friend and foe alike; the torch has been passed to a new generation …”

“As a senior citizen, I say it’s time for us to pass the torch. Pass it to the congressman from Minnesota, Dean Phillips.”

Formella’s office confirmed to NHJournal that it is investigating the almost certainly illegal calls. However, the Attorney General’s Office has spent more than a year investigating tens of thousands of dollars of illegal mail sent by Massachusetts Democrats to interfere with the 2022 GOP primary in the Second Congressional District. Formella and his office have taken no action or filed any charges.

Packard: I Did Nothing Wrong in Merner Case

House Speaker Sherman Packard said he did nothing wrong in his handling of the case of Troy Merner, the former state House member charged with illegal voting and lying about his residency. And, he told reporters Wednesday, he is done talking about the topic.

Packard (R-Londonderry) met with a small group of reporters to clear the air, set the record straight, and end the discussion about what he did and did not do when he first learned Merner did not live in his Lancaster district.

“We had to let the process play out since it was under investigation by the (New Hampshire Department of Justice,)” Packard said. “I never talked to Troy Merner the whole time about his residency.”

Saying it would be the last time he planned to talk about Merner, Packard often sounded defensive during the meeting with NHPR, the Union Leader, and NHJournal, saying he could not have taken action when his office learned last December that Merner’s residency was under investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

“Do what? What would you have me do? Get in the middle of an investigation? That could be criminal. Which is what it turned out to be,” Packard said. “If I had gotten involved in it and screwed up the investigation, you guys would probably be jumping all over me for ‘Why did you get involved’… I lose no matter what the hell I do.”

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office charged Merner, 63, last month on counts of wrongful voting, theft by deception, and unsworn falsification following its investigation. Merner is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday, Dec. 28 in Coos County Superior Court. 

Packard’s meeting on Wednesday was an attempt to put an end to the critical news stories that dogged his office since the news broke.

“We tried to put this to bed, and every time we try and put it to bed, somebody puts a report out or something of that nature and blows the whole thing up again,” Packard said.

Packard blamed the media and partisan politics for giving life to the controversy and not anything he did or did not do.

“Would this [interest in the Merner story] have happened if we or the other party had a 50-vote majority? Probably not. Let’s be realistic; there’s a lot of politics involved in this right now,” Packard said.

According to documents so far released in the case, the Attorney General’s Office emailed Terry Pfaff — Chief Operating Officer of the New Hampshire legislature — on Dec. 6, 2022, one day before the House Organization Day. The email alerted House authorities to questions about Merner’s living situation and the ongoing investigation. A Packard staffer contacted Merner soon after receiving that email, and Merner denied he was no longer a Lancaster resident.

At that point, according to Packard, he decided to wait for the attorney general.

“We didn’t jump into any type of investigation; we took the man at his word. We had no reason not to, regardless of what the investigation said, because it wasn’t finished,” Packard said. 

Merner, a member of the Lancaster select board, allegedly moved out of Lancaster before he was elected to the House last November. According to court records, Merner considered his Lancaster office, post office box, and intent to eventually move back enough to establish his residency in the district despite the fact he was actually living in Carroll with his wife.

Deputy Speaker Rep. Steve Smith (R-Charlestown) played wingman to Packard at Wednesday’s press conference, explaining that no one made a formal complaint for Packard to act on and brought proof that Merner was not a Lancaster resident to the speaker.

“Anybody could have brought a complaint, and nobody did,” Smith said.

Without a complaint, Smith said that Packard could not act, adding that the Speaker’s Office does not generally investigate alleged misdeeds, nor does it conduct surveillance on members.

“The Speaker’s Office has a chief of staff, a deputy chief of staff, and … a communications director. We’re not going to deploy them to stake people out,” Smith said. “We don’t have staff or resources for that based on a rumor.”

Merner finally resigned from the House in September aw the attorney general’s investigation neared conclusion. At that point, the Department of Justice provided Packard with proof Merner was not a Lancaster resident. Packard followed up on that information by pushing Merner to step down.

“Once proof was given to us by the DOJ, we acted immediately,” Packard said.

Even if Packard got involved, past House precedent showed nothing would have happened, Packard and Smith argued. They pointed to a similar controversy from 1990, when it was learned Democratic Rep. Cynthia McGovern did not live in her Portsmouth district but instead lived in Hampton. 

Then-Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) appointed a committee to investigate McGovern’s residency, which took years to bring a resolution ousting McGovern to the floor. Despite it being a clear case of a representative living outside their district, the House voted down a 1992 resolution to boot McGovern from her seat.

“If we did investigate, what would have happened? It would have been really hard to find any conclusion other than the 1992 committee report that saw something just like this,” Smith said.

Is Packard worried about accusations from Democrats that he mishandled the Merner situation or the impact of this incident on his speakership going forward?

“I’ve been in politics a long time. I can’t control what everybody thinks,” Packard said.

NH AG Files Civil Complaint Against Neo-Nazi Group

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is making good on his promise to target hate groups, announcing a new civil complaint against a notorious gang of New England Neo-Nazis.

The move comes as the state is also considering hate crimes charges against the three people who conducted an antisemitic, pro-Palestinian attack on an Israeli-owned business in Merrimack.

Christopher Hood, founder of NSC-131, and 19 NSC-131 members are accused of violating New Hampshire’s anti-discrimination law for allegedly trying to stop a drag queen story hour event at Concord’s Teatotaller Cafe this summer.

The identity of the other 19 men is not known. They are listed as John Does in the complaint.

Assistant Attorney General Sean Locke heads up the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit and said Wednesday that NSC-131’s actions at Teatotaller crossed the line from protest to discriminatory harassment.

“This isn’t a protest where a person, or a couple of people, are standing out on a sidewalk with a sign saying, ‘I don’t agree with what’s going on here,’” Locke said.

According to the complaint, “Hood and the other men stood outside the café and, for over an hour, faced into the café shouting homophobic slurs and phrases, loudly chanting and saluting in a fashion reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The complaint alleges that the men, led by Hood, banged on the café’s glass windows, and made intimidating gestures and comments directed at the performer and those in the café.”

Hood and his NSC-131 followers posted videos and photos of the incident on the group’s social media. Hood and his gang are behind dozens of sometimes violent demonstrations targeting racial minorities and members of the LGBTQ community throughout New England.

Despite the intimidating actions, NSC-131 did not stop the drag event at Teatotaller, according to drag performer Juicy Garland. Garland posted on social media soon after the event, saying the show continued.

“The cafe (and community) there is FANTASTIC, and racist outsiders came in to make it miserable,” Garland wrote on Twitter. “We prevailed and had a great time with the families anyway.”

Amid a surge of antisemitic words and actions in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel, Formella announced plans last month to step up enforcement against hate groups in the state, adding another attorney and additional staff to the Civil Rights Unit.

According to Formella, the Civil Rights Unit has seen a 465 percent increase in complaints and referrals over the last five years, from 40 to 186. He attributed the rise to various factors, including the increased racial and ethnic diversity, an increase in divisive political rhetoric, and “a rise in tension and conflict around the world.”

Last month, three women were arrested at the Elbit Systems facility in Merrimack after vandalizing the building, breaking windows, and setting off smoke bombs. Members of Palestine Action USA — Calla Walsh, 19, Bridget Shergalis, 27, and Sophie Ross, 22 — were charged with criminal trespass, riot, and sabotage for the incident.

Locke said his unit is working with Merrimack Police and the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office. More charges in the case are possible, including hate crime charges.

“Any and all charges that can be brought will be bought,” Locke said.

When Formella announced the increase in resources in the Civil Rights Unit, which was made at Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, NHJournal asked if the state’s hate crimes laws gave his office the authority to prosecute Palestine Action USA for any role it may have had in the Elbit attack.

“The answer is yes,” Formella said. “Organizations and entities can be held responsible for the acts of their members.”

Palestine Action USA is being bankrolled by multi-millionaire Communist James “Fergie” Chambers.

At the University of New Hampshire, Locke’s team is in contact with the Durham campus police department as several antisemitic incidents are currently under investigation. However, one incident in which students and faculty called for Jewish genocide is not being investigated.

UNH granted the Pro-Palestinian group Answer Coalition permission to hold a rally on Nov. 9, the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass.

Locke said the UNH Police Department has not asked for his assistance in that matter.

Locke is still trying to secure a win against NSC-131 for a July 2022 incident in which the group hung a banner with the message “Keep New England White” off a Route 1 overpass in Portsmouth. After the case was dismissed in court on free speech grounds, the Attorney General’s Office filed an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Locke said Wednesday he expects NSC-131 to raise the First Amendment in its defense, and he and his team are prepared to make their case.

“We expect the First Amendment is going to be an issue raised, and we certainly expect it to be raised,” Locke said.

Hood and his gang are facing a civil rights case in Massachusetts after the Bay State brought a case last week. The gang allegedly targeted LGBTQ events and immigrants.

Experts who monitor hate groups, like Kristopher Goldsmith’s Task Force Butler, said NSC-131 ought to be treated like a violent, terrorist gang by authorities. The group’s demonstrations feature assaults and escalating violent behavior, Goldsmith has said.

Hood, whose last address was in Newburyport, Mass., started NSC-131 after he was kicked out of the white supremacist group, Patriot Front. He also has reported ties to violent hate groups like The Base.

The Teatotaller case is first being filed with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, and Locke said he is asking the commission to refer the complaint to the Superior Court for civil prosecution. He said he hopes the process will be done in the next 20 to 30 days.

Problems at Sanborn Casino ‘Off the Charts,’ Auditor Testifies in Hearing

“It was off the charts.”

Leila McDonough, the New Hampshire Lottery Commission auditor, described the volume of issues the state had with Andy Saborn’s Concord Casino.

McDonough made the comments during a Monday hearing over whether the former state senator can keep his casino owner’s license despite accusations of fraud, including using COVID relief money to buy sports cars. While Sanborn’s attorneys claimed Sanborn did nothing wrong, McDonough testified Sanborn never cared to follow the rules.

The Department of Safety showdown featured one witness for the state, McDonough, the woman who for years was tasked with trying to get Sanborn to follow state regulations.

McDonough’s testimony painted the picture of Sanborn as entitled and stubborn, a casino operator whose refusal to follow basic accounting procedures created a huge mess — or worse, led to massive fraud.

For instance, when a casino owner claims to have hundreds of thousands in cash, but he won’t let the state auditor in charge of casino financial reports count the money, you have a problem, she said.

“How can you conduct an audit that includes cash when you’re not allowed to count the cash?” McDonough asked. “Eventually, you have to assume the cash doesn’t exist since you’re not allowed to see it or count it.”

She said Sanborn was difficult to deal with since he opened his casino in 2018. Both Sanborn and his wife, state Rep. Laurie Sanborn, would call the commission to complain about audits and regulations they had to follow, McDonough said. The Concord Casino’s record-keeping was sloppy at best, she added, and Sanborn never appeared to take the legal requirement from the commission seriously. 

McDonough is the Lottery Commission auditor who spotted enough red flags to go to the commission’s enforcement officials. who then brought in New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. Formella has said a criminal probe by his office is also underway.

At one point, McDonough said, she found a statement of cash flows for July 2021 through to July 2020.

“This is actually the document that made me very concerned,” McDonough said.

That document showed Sanborn’s casino ran a $29,000 operating loss in that year and had no cash. This was at the time Sanborn claimed to have $200,000 in cash in secure locations McDonough was not allowed to see.

The statement also showed a large amount of cash invested in large equipment that had little to do with the business, like two Porsches and a Ferrari. The Ferarri was reportedly a gift for Laurie Sanborn. 

Sanborn still managed to report $23,000 in cash for owner’s equity, McDonough testified. According to the records, Sanborn reported taking $5,700 in cash out of a bank and putting that into the equity cash amount.

“I’ve never seen this done with any other entity,” she said. “That was very odd.”

The financial statement McDonough revised seemed to show the whole operation was being funded with $844,000 in COVID relief loan money. The records also repeatedly showed large ticket purchases like the sports cars and tens of thousands in car parts charged business expenses.

McDonough reportedly uncovered Sanborn was also paying himself rent for the casino. The casino is owned through Sanborn’s LLC called Win, Win, Win LLC, but the Main Street property in Concord, where the casino is housed, is owned by another Sanborn LLC, The Best Revenge LLC.

The lease agreement between Best Revenge and Win, Win, Win has the casino pay the property $6,000 a year in rent, paid at $500 a month. According to the audit, Sanborn wired $163,500 from Win, Win, Win to Best Revenge between January and August 2022 to cover the rent. 

That was more than $20,000 a month for the $500 a month rent.

McDonough said the records had a lot of large, round numbers for expenses that lacked detail and supporting documentation.

Sanborn was not at the hearing. One of his attorneys,  Zachary Hafer, said Sanborn is in Boston receiving medical treatment. His legal team includes attorney Mark Knights, who argued the state’s case simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

“It is an incomplete story that has yawning gaps in the evidence,” Knights said.

Place Your Bets — Sanborn Casino Hearing Set for Monday

Accused of spending COVID relief money on sports cars, Andy Sanborn is betting he can keep the license for his Concord Casino.

Sanborn, a former GOP state senator, is now set to argue his case to the New Hampshire Lottery Commission at a Monday hearing after weeks of delays. Sanborn sued the state to push back the hearing, originally scheduled for October. He successfully got more time for his lawyers to put together his defense.

Sanborn has denied the accusation that he misused $844,000 in COVID relief funds to buy himself two Porsches and a Ferrari for his wife, state Rep. Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford.).

In August, the Lottery Commission and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella publicly declared Sanford unfit to hold a casino license based on the alleged misdeeds uncovered during a regular background investigation.

Sanborn first got the casino license in 2018. He was up for renewal when the alleged fraud was found.

Along with three vehicles allegedly bought with COVID money, the May 2022 audit found Sanborn was paying himself rent for the casino. It is owned through Sanborn’s Win, Win, Win LLC, but the Main Street property in Concord is owned by another Sanborn business, The Best Revenge LLC.

The lease agreement between Best Revenge and Win, Win, Win has the casino pay the property $6,000 a year in rent, paid out at $500 a month. According to the audit, Sanborn wired $163,500 from Win, Win, Win to Best Revenge between January and August 2022 to cover the rent. 

That was more than $20,000 a month for the $500 a month rent. To put it another way, Sanborn appears to have paid himself for more than 27 years of rent in eight months.

According to the audit, Sanborn’s casino was losing money, and the business was down to a little more than $900 available cash before the COVID relief money came through.

Sanborn disputes those facts, claiming the audit looked at the wrong accounts and he had about $150,000 available. While the business lost money in 2020, things had picked up in 2021, he states. Sanborn claims the casino generates $400,000 a month in revenue.

The commission had concerns about Sanborn before the May 2022 audit. Records show his suitability to hold a casino license was being questioned. The commission had worries about his past stint as a state senator, where crude jokes resulted in allegations of sexual harassment in 2013 and an investigation into a bribe to hush up a witness in 2018.

Sanborn was cleared of the bribery accusation. He acknowledged making a crude joke in front of an intern. The exact joke has not been disclosed, but records indicate he was discussing oral sex. One woman told investigators she was warned not to be alone with Sanborn when she started her job in the State House.

The commission was also concerned about the lawsuit brought by creditors in his business bankruptcy filing. Sanborn filed for bankruptcy in 2004 as his business, Brannigan’s Cycleworks, was failing. According to court records, he was sued by creditors who accused him of moving money ahead of the bankruptcy.

After Formella announced the charges, Laurie Sanborn was forced to step down from her role as chair of the new state gambling commission. Formella referred the matter to his office’s Public Integrity Unit as well as to the United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire.

Formella Targets Meta With Lawsuit Claiming Tech Giant Is Hurting NH Kids

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is out to stop social media giant Meta, which he says built its empire by targeting children and hurting their mental health.

“We will not tolerate the pursuit of profit at the expense of the mental health and well-being of New Hampshire’s kids and America’s kids,” Formella said.

Formella filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Merrimack Superior Court alleging Meta, the company behind Facebook and Instagram, has been hiding the fact its social media platforms cause mental health problems for teens and children.

“Meta knows the harm it’s causing, and it’s lulled parents into a false sense of security,” Formella said.

The New Hampshire lawsuit is part of a larger battle against social media involving 41 other state attorneys general. A federal lawsuit filed in California has 34 state attorneys general accusing Meta of using its data to exploit children. New Hampshire is not part of the federal lawsuit; it is one of eight states filing lawsuits on their own.

Formella said New Hampshire’s strong consumer protection and product liability laws give the state effort a good chance of succeeding against Meta. 

According to Formella, Meta has known for years that children and their developing minds are particularly vulnerable to manipulative design techniques that keep them mindlessly scrolling on social media. Instead of working to institute safeguards, Meta instead knowingly manipulates children to stay logged on for as long as possible so that the company can extract their data and profits by serving them endless advertisements. 

“Meta’s design strategy exploits their vulnerabilities: from a dopamine-inducing personalization algorithm that gives kids the same feeling as gambling to consistent alerts that interfere with their schoolwork and sleep. Meta content capitalizes on children’s fear of missing out and urges them to constantly engage with the platforms,” Formnella said.

The result this social media saturation has on children is chilling and awful, according to the lawsuit. 

“In 2021, almost half (44.2 percent) of New Hampshire’s high school students self-reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless––a 75 percent increase from 2011. Similarly, from 2011 to 2021, the percentage of New Hampshire high school students who reported seriously considering suicide increased by 72 percent–– from 14.3 percent to 24.7 percent. Alarmingly, the percentage of New Hampshire high school students who self-reported actually attempting suicide jumped from 6.1 percent to 9.8 percent––a 60 percent increase,” the lawsuit states.

Formella said the company is lying about the safety of Facebook and Instagram, as well as its own safety measures. The company continues to push features that lure kids into endless scrolling. The result is anxiety, depression, and serious body image issues.

“Meta’s decision to do so despite its knowledge of significant links between excessive use of social media and increased instances of serious health problems such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia is unacceptable and unlawful. Not unlike Big Tobacco a generation ago, Meta has chosen profits over public health, particularly the health of the youngest among us,” Formella said.

Meta is even launching an ad campaign that targets children under age 13, the supposed limit for getting an account, he said.

“Meta does all of this to expand its user base and its profit,” Formella said.

The company issued a statement Tuesday complaining Formella and the 41 other attorneys general could have simply asked for changes to the social media platforms rather than filing the lawsuits.

“We’re disappointed that instead of working productively with companies across the industry to create clear, age-appropriate standards for the many apps teens use, the attorneys general have chosen this path,” the statement read.

Formellas’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to force Meta to make real changes to its systems, and it wants the company held liable for damages and breaking consumer protection laws. All of this could result in a large monetary judgment against the company, just in New Hampshire.

No Answers in NHGOP Activist’s Slaying

It has been almost two months since GOP activist Alex Talcott was killed in his Durham home, and there are still no answers about what happened.

Talcott, 41, was stabbed in the neck and killed in the early morning hours of Aug. 26. His body was found by police in his garage, and the death is considered a homicide.

Talcott’s violent death made national news as those who knew and worked with him in politics publicly grieved. Former House Speaker William O’Brien, state director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association, and Chris Ager, current Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, both eulogized Talcott soon after the death was announced.

“He came to me many times just asking, ‘Hey Chris, how can I help?’ Never asking for anything in return. He was that kind of person. We’re really going to miss him a lot,” Ager said.

But in the weeks that have followed, officials have said nothing about the case. Republicans, particularly in the seacoast area, have filled the void with rumors and speculation, angering friends of Talcott and his family.

“Alex was a friend. He’d been a guest in my home. I’ve run past his house many times,” said former NHGOP state chair Fergus Cullen. “I have emails and text messages and even a voicemail from him on my phone. Something went terribly wrong. We shouldn’t be left to wonder what that was.”

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office told NHJournal the case is still under investigation. Michael Garrity, the spokesman for the state Department of Justice, said there will be a public report about Talcott’s death once the investigation is done, but he could not give a timeline on the investigation or report.

“At this point, the investigation into Mr. Talcott’s death remains active and ongoing, and it includes whether the person who stabbed Mr. Talcott acted in self-defense,” Garrity said.

Police and Garrity have said there is no danger to the community stemming from the case. No arrests have been made, and police know who stabbed Talcott.

Under New Hampshire law, a person may legally claim self-defense when using deadly force if they are faced with an aggressor who reasonably poses a deadly threat to that person or another third party. The state generally does not prosecute cases where self-defense is credibly raised as a possible explanation, avoiding trials in such instances. Whoever stabbed and killed Talcott may never be charged.

Since his death, little has been said publicly about Talcott. Friends and associates contacted by NHJournal have been reluctant to talk. Even information about his funeral and burial arrangements is not known. That is typically published in an obituary, though an internet search did not find one for Talcott. Obituaries are generally written by family members or by a funeral home employee with input from the family.

Talcott lived at the home with his wife, Kristin Talcott, and their three children.  

Kristin and Alex Talcott both graduated from Dartmouth College. Alex Talcott went into corporate law and was the CEO of New Constellation Capital Residential Real Estate and Venture Capital Investing, as well as an adjunct instructor in business law and finance at the University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. 

A long-time GOP activist, Alex Talcott, made an unsuccessful run for state representative in 2022.

Kristin Talcott is a clinical social worker and therapist. 

Sanborn Gambles with Casino Hearing

Casino operator Andy Sanborn wants to take his chances in front of the state Lottery Commission, but his odds aren’t looking good.

The former GOP state senator has decided to publicly challenge charges that he stole COVID relief money and used the cash for sports carts and other luxuries.

Sanborn is set to appear before the New Hampshire Lottery Commission on Oct. 3 to appeal Executive Director Charlie McIntyre’s decision that he is too corrupt to own and operate a casino in the Granite State. Concord recently approved a second casino and a microbrewery, which were part of a planned Sanborn development.

But now the scandal-plagued Republican may lose his license to operate a gambling business altogether.

Sanborn is accused of misappropriating $844,000 in pandemic relief tax dollars while operating a casino at his Draft Sports Bar and Grill, which he owns along with his wife, state Rep. Laurie Sanborn (R-Bedford). The allegations against her business partner forced her to give up her position as chair of the state’s new commission reviewing practices in the charitable gaming industry.

McIntyre sent Sanborn a letter on Aug. 31 laying out the findings of the commission’s investigation. According to a statement released by Attorney General John Formella, Sanborn “fraudulently applied for and received at least one Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), with loan proceeds of $844,000. Further, investigators obtained evidence indicating that after receiving those taxpayer dollars, Mr. Sanborn used them to purchase at least three race cars: two Porsche 987 Cayman S racers for his personal use, and a Ferrari F430 challenge racer as a gift for his wife, Rep. Laurie Sanborn.”

Sanborn also allegedly used COVID money to make 27 years’ worth of prepaid rent payments on another business he owns.

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are now looking into Sanborn’s practices. According to Formella’s statement, that includes “a review by the Public Integrity Unit of the actions of all of the individuals and entities involved.” That would presumably include Laurie Sanborn.

Andy Sanborn’s checkered political career includes a bribery investigation after he allegedly made a “crude joke” to a Senate intern in 2013. After the joke was made, the exact nature of which has never been revealed, the intern was given a full-time job in the Senate and an envelope with $200 in cash.

Five years later, an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office did not result in any charges, and Sanborn denied any wrongdoing.

“No one in the room was offended by the joke,” Sanborn said in 2018. “No complaint was filed. Case closed. If that’s news, so be it.”

Sanborn threatened a college student in 2014 via email after the student, one of Sanborn’s constituents, sent an email asking Sanborn to support marijuana legalization. A clearly irked Sanborn called the student “a college freshman who just wants to get high at any cost” and implied he would get the student’s scholarship revoked.

“I’m thinking if I call the [organization you received a scholarship from] and ask their opinion on legalization, they may have a different opinion (not to mention may be asking you for their scholarship money back…).” Sanborn wrote.

Sanborn made a failed bid for Congress in 2018 after serving in the state Senate for eight years. 

Few Answers in Stabbing Death of NHGOP Activist

Authorities are offering few details about what happened last weekend when GOP lawyer Alex Talcott was stabbed in the neck and killed, a story that has rocked his fellow Republicans across the state.

Police found Talcott, 41, dead inside his Bennett Road home in Durham during the early morning hours Saturday after being called there, according to statements released by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. The official autopsy confirmed on Sunday that Talcott’s death was a homicide.

No one has been taken into custody since Attorney General John Formella’s Sunday statement, though investigators seem to know who killed Talcott. And whoever the killer might be, it is possible they may not face charges in the killing.

“The parties involved in the incident have been identified, and based on the information known to investigators, there is no danger to the public. The investigation into Talcott’s death is ongoing and includes whether the person who stabbed Talcott acted in self-defense.”

Under New Hampshire law, a person may claim self-defense when faced with an aggressor who reasonably poses a deadly threat to that person or a third party. If self-defense is deemed justified, criminal charges are not filed.

Matt Mowers, who’s been both a GOP consultant and candidate, knew Talcott well, and he told NHJournal the news “left us all shocked.” Mowers took to social media after the news broke:

“Incredibly sad news. Alex and I were just talking the other day. He was the kind of friend who was there for you in the tough times as well as the good times.”

Talcott lived at the home with his wife, Kristin Talcott, and their three young children. Kristin Talcott did not respond to a message left by NHJournal.

Kristin and Alex Talcott both graduated from Dartmouth College. Alex Talcott entered corporate law and was CEO of New Constellation Capital Residential Real Estate and Venture Capital Investing. He also worked as an adjunct business law and finance instructor at the University of New Hampshire Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics for many years.

A long-time GOP activist, Alex Talcott briefly ran for state representative in Carroll County in 2022 though his name did not appear on the ballot. He was remembered fondly by many in the state party, including former House Speaker William O’Brien, state director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

O’Brien told NBC 10 Boston that Talcott was a skilled lawyer and advocate.

“Within the RNLA, his leadership was unwavering in promoting our shared values, ensuring every member felt empowered and well-prepared,” O’Brien said. “We will forever honor Alex’s selfless dedication and profound contributions to our shared vision of liberty through legal processes.”

Talcott was also one of the regulars on the GOP’s Election Day legal response team.

Chris Ager, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee and Alex Talcott’s friend, told WMUR that Talcott was always ready to pitch in on behalf of the party.

“He came to me many times just asking, ‘Hey Chris, how can I help?’ Never asking for anything in return. He was that kind of person. We’re really going to miss him a lot,” Ager said.

Alex Talcott won accolades from his UNH students on Rate My Professor, who considered his class easy.

“Easy A! two exams. don’t have to go to lectures even though you should cus their [sic] interesting and he gives very good advice! You know he is a smart guy and super personable. Take any of his classes!” one student wrote.

Kristin Talcott built a career as a clinical social worker and therapist. She taught graduate-level social work classes at Simmons College and built her own practice specializing in anxiety, depression, and helping people with trauma. The couple have two daughters and a son. 

The investigation into Alex Talcott’s death is active. Formella’s office has not said when the investigation’s results will be released.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been updated to add more context to Talcott’s brief bid for state representative in 2022.