Gunstock commission adds political donation policy after AG investigation

Attorney general's office determined campaign donations count as electioneering

The Gunstock Area Commission formally added a policy barring the use of Gunstock Mountain Resort funds and property for political purposes at its August meeting in order to comply with an order from the state Attorney General’s Office. An investigation into two donations of Gunstock money by General Manager Tom Day to reelection campaigns of Gov. Chris Sununu found that Day unintentionally violated state law banning public funds be used for electioneering.

Though a letter from the AG’s office to Day called on him to cease-and-desist any further violation of the electioneering statute, it noted that “we do not find that you had any intent to violate the law and anticipate closing this matter following your submission of an acceptable remediation plan.”

While Gunstock had already learned its lesson and would not be making other political donations, commission Chair Doug Lambert said, the GAC agreed with the AG’s finding that there was a need to take concrete steps to prevent repeat occurrences in the future.

“Believe me, they didn’t have to tell us twice not to do that again,” Lambert said.

At the end of July 2022 — after Gunstock’s senior management had walked out en masse and just days before they would be reinstated — a check to Sununu’s campaign signed by Day surfaced in a public statement made by then-Belmont Rep. Mike Sylvia, who condemned the donation as “clearly improper and possibly violative of the law.” 

After Sylvia’s statements, the AG’s office began an investigation, according to the letter. Investigators confirmed that two donations, one of $500 and another of $1,000, were submitted in September 2020 and June 2022, respectively. They found that, while Gunstock’s budget has a line item reserved for donations, it had no fiscal policies regulating the mountain’s expenditures outside of its governing statute. 

Day told investigators that when he made the donations, he was continuing a practice from a previous GM post at Waterville Valley, where the mountain donated to the sitting governor regardless of their partisan affiliation. 

The AG’s office determined Day’s donations did count as electioneering — defined in state law as “to act in any way specifically designed to influence the vote of a voter on any question or office” — and therefore violated RSA 659:44-a, II, which makes it illegal for any public employee to use public property to electioneer.

Finding that Day did not intend to violate the law, the AG’s office ruled the matter would be closed once the mountain submitted plans to educate current and future personnel against repeating the action and to ensure a similarly improper use of public money at the mountain would not be repeated. 

Commissioners wrote the new policy, Lambert said, based on the text of the electioneering law. Though the mountain is still in the process of sending its remediation plan to the AG’s office, according to Day, Lambert was confident the new policy, as well as the commission’s new practice of reviewing the check register at every monthly meeting, would satisfy the AG’s order. 

In an interview, Day affirmed that he had no intention to make any future political donations on behalf of the mountain — to the governor or otherwise. He said he felt it was “unfortunate” that Gunstock wouldn’t be able to join other mountains who further the ski industry’s interests by supporting the sitting governor, but emphasized that “it’s the rules, and I’ll stick with the rules.”

Lambert pointed to the check’s controversy last summer, and the commission’s ignorance that the donations had been made, as further evidence of how a lack of official governance policy had long troubled current commissioners.

“As we’ve known for the past year, that’s been kind of one of the things that’s been dogging the commission,” Lambert said at the commission meeting. The GAC developed and implemented a slew of policies over the winter. The new policy will be added to that list. 

Sylvia did not respond to a request for comment.

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