CONCORD, N.H. -- The chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee has called for House Speaker Gene Chandler to resign from his leadership post.
Representative Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, said he didn't believe the fellow Republican had done anything wrong intentionally, but, ''I think his judgment was extremely poor."
Jasper recused himself from the committee just before it voted yesterday to continue investigating nearly $64,000 in donations Chandler received over several years and did not report.
Jasper said he spoke out because the complaint against Chandler casts a pall over the House. ''The House should not be under such a cloud in electing its new leadership," he said. Jasper did not ask Chandler, who is up for reelection, to resign from the House.
Chandler's lawyer, Ovide Lamontagne, called Jasper's conduct and statements outrageous.
''I'm frankly shocked that the chairman of the committee had made up his mind already," he said. ''It raises serious questions about the integrity of the process."
Senator Joseph Foster, a Nashua Democrat, who serves on the Ethics Committee, said Jasper did the right thing in recusing himself.
The committee could have dismissed the complaint against Chandler or called for a formal hearing. Instead, members decided to collect more evidence and tentatively planned a meeting on Nov. 16 to reconsider the matter.
Representative Kenneth Weyler, Republican of Kingston, testified that Chandler's failure to report these gifts amounts to a ''betrayal of public trust."
Weyler had recommended the committee ban Chandler from holding any legislative leadership position because it gives him the power to influence other lawmakers' votes.
''Now, I study the list of contributors and look back at a list of votes and fear that leadership's recommendation had more to do with keeping the contributions flowing than with doing the right thing," he said.
The committee heard from Weyler and Representative Donald Weed, Democrat of Keene, who made the complaint. They also heard from Chandler's lawyer before going into private session.
Lamontagne had asked the committee to consider reaching an informal agreement with Chandler that could include a reprimand or asking him to fulfill certain conditions. Lamontagne urged the committee to view Chandler's case as an opportunity to clarify the rules and improve the education of lawmakers.
Chandler has admitted receiving almost $64,000 raised by the Friends of Gene Chandler Committee but said he did not believe he needed to report it.
Lawmakers are required to fill out a disclosure form each year listing major donors and sources of income. Chandler filled one out in 1999 that included donations from the Friends of Gene Chandler, but stopped doing so when he became speaker.
Chandler received donations over several years at annual Corn Roast Galas sponsored by the Friends Committee. He has said he used the money mostly for car expenses, although he said he may have used some of the money to make a mortgage payment.
Much of the money came from lobbyists, corporations, interest groups and others with a stake before the Legislature. But Lamontagne said there is no evidence Chandler used his position to benefit any of his donors.
Chandler, of Bartlett, said previously he has no plans to resign from his leadership post or from the House. In a letter to House members, Chandler said he will seek reelection as speaker if he is reelected in his district.
If an informal resolution of the ethics complaint is not possible, Lamontagne has asked the committee to hold off on its proceedings until the attorney general's office completes its investigation and a new ethics committee is appointed. The current members' terms expire Dec. 1.
''He takes full responsibility for any misunderstanding or confusion and will take all necessary steps to correct the public record and to remove any cloud surrounding his political activities," Lamontagne said in a letter to the committee.