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Speaker out over ethics violations

CONCORD, N.H. -- Hours after he was charged with formal ethics violations, state Representative Gene Chandler said yesterday that he would not seek reelection as House speaker.

Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, was charged with failing to report nearly $64,000 in donations from lobbyists, businesses, and others that he used for personal expenses. The vote of the legislative Ethics Committee was unanimous.

Deputy Speaker Mike Whalley, Republican from Alton, read Chandler's announcement at a State House news conference yesterday afternoon, then said he would run for speaker when the House elects its officers tomorrow.

Chandler said in a telephone interview from Bartlett that he did not plan to resign his House seat. He did not attend yesterday morning's Ethics Committee hearing.

In his letter, he expressed regret for letting down his supporters.

"As I have stated previously, I would put the institution of the House first, the members second and myself last," the letter said. "It is clear that the issues raised this fall are not going to be resolved as speedily as I would like and had hoped for, and I do not want a lingering cloud over the House."

Chandler has acknowledged he failed to report the donations, made at annual corn roasts held by the "Friends of Gene Chandler" committee. He has said that he did not think he had to report them.

Chandler said he used the money mostly for car expenses, although he may have used some of it to make a mortgage payment.

The attorney general's office also is investigating Chandler for possible criminal violations.

Three charges were filed against Chandler.

Two charges accuse him of violating legislative ethics rules. One alleges he accepted donations totaling more than $250 from people who had or were likely to have business before the Legislature. The other alleges he used his position as a lawmaker and House speaker to obtain more than $250 in gifts for "private benefit."

The third charge alleges he broke the law by failing to report gifts of more than $50.

Chandler has two weeks to respond in writing to the charges. After a formal hearing Jan. 13, the committee could dismiss them or recommend penalties ranging from a reprimand to expulsion. The full House then would vote on the recommendation.

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