It’s time for state government reform

New Hampshire is a great place to live, with its wealth of natural beauty, and it is a great place to raise a family. But, when it comes to government transparency and ethics, we have our work cut out for us.

Last November, the Center for Public Integrity released its annual “State Integrity Investigation,” and New Hampshire earned a grade of “D-.” The state failed five of the center’s 13 categories outright and didn’t score higher than a “C” anywhere. Other reports have likewise graded the Granite State less than admirably on issues of transparency and ethics. 

In short, New Hampshire has one of the worst records in the country when it comes to government transparency — and certain moneyed special interests in Concord want to keep it that way.

Our state’s Bill of Rights, written in 1784, says, “Government … should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.” So demanding accountable, good governance is a key part of our history — and the current lack of it is simply not who we are as a people.

But maintaining a fair, democratic government is difficult if our citizens can’t hold their leaders accountable — and especially if government itself increasingly erodes their ability to do so. The revolving door between public service and lobbying is so out-of-control in both Washington and Concord that, just a few years ago, the Senate president accepted a job overseeing state government lobbying responsibilities while still in office. That is unacceptable: Those who lobby government should not then be permitted to oversee it. 

I have witnessed firsthand the harmful consequences that a lack of transparency and oversight can bring to both government and businesses.

When I served as director of the NH Bureau of Securities Regulation between 2002 and 2010, our state — like many others at the time — suffered from corporate bad actors and their greed, as well nondisclosure and regulatory issues with many companies. 

In fact, a national lack of oversight and self-serving “business as usual” attitudes led directly to the massive loss of jobs, homes and businesses during the first decade of this century, resulting in far-reaching economic harm to working Americans. 

But pushing back and saying “no” to such bad behavior can make an impact. Our agency fought against corporate greed on multiple fronts. For example, we forced the entire board of directors of Tyco to resign after they oversaw the fleecing of their own shareholders, and we required that the company adopt far-reaching transparency and disclosure standards for the first time ever. 

When both the public and private sectors work on behalf of the people they serve, we are all better off. Today, we can and should have more transparency and democracy in our state government — but only if we take action.

In that vein, Governor Hassan deserves credit for appointing the Commission on Innovation, Efficiency, and Transparency. In January 2015, the commission produced an excellent report, detailing the state’s current governance inefficiencies. It also outlined how to improve the delivery of state services and ways the New Hampshire government can operate in more transparently.

I hope these recommendations will be translated into action — and become the first of many steps toward improving how our government works.

New Hampshire deserves a government that operates in the best interests of the state and its people. That’s why we need to carefully review the state’s so-called Right-to-Know Law, which allows state agencies to reject requests to make documents public without any review of the proposal or refusal. I propose an independent arbiter review all Right-to-Know requests on behalf of the general public to ensure the state is operating in a transparent manner. 

In addition, our state political finance system needs overhauling. Candidates can currently raise vast amounts of money without having to report any of it until the summer before an election — and, when they do disclose, there’s typically no follow-up or potential penalties. And when out-of-state powerhouses like the Koch Brothers pour money into New Hampshire politics without any disclosure of where those funds originated, our entire democracy suffers. 

We need to stop taking transparency as a suggestion and start treating it as an imperative by demanding more from our elected and appointed leaders.

New Hampshire can do better. We must do better. 

Mark Connolly of New Castle is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

Categories: Opinion