State AG's office looking into political mailings on Burns, Hansel

·4 min read

Sep. 2—The N.H. Attorney General's Office is investigating possible election law violations arising from anonymous mailers about Republican congressional candidates Robert Burns and George Hansel, highlighting Burns' support for Donald Trump.

Such mailings are required under state and federal law to disclose who paid for them, but no such notification is present in this literature, the office said in a news release Friday, less than two weeks before the Sept. 13 primary election.

Both campaigns said they had nothing to do with the mailings.

Hansel, the mayor of Keene, said he thinks these communications are part of Democratic Party efforts to bolster Republican candidates who have less chance for success in the fall.

"They are trying to prop up the more extreme candidates because the Democrats know it will make it easier for them in the general election," Hansel said Friday.

In an earlier interview, he was noncommittal on whether he would support Trump should the former president become the Republican nominee for the White House in 2024 ("I'll evaluate it when people step up," he told The Sentinel in June).

The winner of the 2nd Congressional District GOP primary will face five-term U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster of Hopkinton in the Nov. 8 general election. She has also denied any prior knowledge of or coordination in the mailings at issue, according to the Attorney General's Office.

The Republican field for the primary includes Lily Tang Williams of Weare; Scott Black of Whitefield; Michael Callis of Conway; Jay Mercer of Nashua; and Dean A. Poirier of Concord.

"Ann Kuster is nervous about having me as an opponent," Hansel said.

One of the mailers quotes Burns from an Aug. 1 debate:

"I'm the only person up here who voted for Trump in 2016. I am the only America First candidate up here and I'm the only person committed to supporting Trump in the future."

Another one shows a picture of Burns and Trump, both men holding their thumbs up, next to the headline, "I stand with TRUMP."

One of the mailers said Hansel does not oppose sanctuary cities, or areas where officials limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. In reality, Hansel, when he was a Keene city councilor in 2017, voted against a resolution to limit such cooperation.

Burns, who worked on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, is a former Hillsborough County treasurer.

He is not bashful about his support for the former president, but he does question why the state Attorney General's Office is interested in campaign mailings for a federal office.

He said he thinks Republican Gov. Chris Sununu is behind the investigation and the news release. Sununu has endorsed Hansel's candidacy.

"He [Sununu] is weaponizing the New Hampshire Department of Justice against me," Burns said in an interview Friday.

Ben Vihstadt, a spokesman for Sununu, had a one-word reaction to that allegation: "Ridiculous."

Michael S. Garrity, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, acknowledged that criminal election law violations involving federal candidates are generally enforceable only by federal authorities, but he also said the N.H. attorney general is not trying to benefit any one candidate.

"This office does not play politics," he wrote in an email. "The Attorney General has been very clear that we are going to vigorously enforce our election laws and that is what we are doing."

In Friday's news release, the Attorney General's Office said the mailers were produced by Massachusetts printing company Reynolds DeWalt.

That company's website shows campaign products that were made for various Democratic campaigns.

Some Democratic groups have been funding certain Republican candidates across the nation in hopes of setting the field for success in the general election.

OpenSecrets.org, a nonprofit group that tracks political expenditures, has reported that organizations aligned with the Democratic Party have spent nearly $44 million on far-right candidates in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland this election cycle.

Meanwhile, Politico reported this week that Democrats Serve, a new political action committee that backs Democratic candidates, has booked $94,000 on TV ads for Burns.

The 2nd Congressional District covers the Monadnock Region and the northern and eastern portions of the state.

Rick Green can be reached at RGreen@KeeneSentinel.com or 603-355-8567