Gov. Chris Sununu’s unpublicized visit to Washington last week included his attendance at a fundraising gala hosted by a pro-Lebanon advocacy group whose website refers to its “access to senior U.S. and Lebanese government officials.”
A spokesman for Sununu confirmed his attendance at the annual fundraiser of the D.C.-based American Task Force for Lebanon. The governor’s staff, when previously asked for information on the visit to Washington, told NHPR that Sununu traveled to Washington for a “private, non-political event.”
While it’s unclear if politics came up at last week’s gala, Sununu has in the past benefited politically from ATFL board members. Campaign fundraising reports show that Sununu received at least $9,000 from members of ATFL’s Board of Directors in his campaign for governor last year. Nijad Fares gave Sununu $7,000 on June 5, according to an August fundraising report, and Ray Irani gave Sununu $2,000 three days later. Both are named as vice chairmen on ATFL’s website.
The governor's office said Monday that Sununu's travel expenses for his trip to Washington were covered using "funds raised through the Inaugural Committee."
Sununu’s visit to D.C. was not listed on the public schedule provided to the media by his office last week. His office first publicly disclosed that he was out of town Thursday afternoon, in a press release and social media posts announcing that Sununu had a “constructive meeting” with Sen. Maggie Hassan in her Washington office that morning.
Asked last week for more information on the governor’s travel, spokesman David Abrams initially declined to elaborate beyond what was included in the press release. Abrams later followed up with an email saying Sununu’s schedule in D.C. included a “private, non-political event” in addition to the meeting with Hassan. Asked why the trip was not included in Sununu’s public schedule, Abrams wrote: “I have no further information for you.”
The American Task Force for Lebanon describes itself as a "nonsectarian and nonpartisan" group whose “objective is to expand awareness of the economic and political conditions in Lebanon and to encourage the various United States government entities and the Lebanese-American community to provide much needed assistance to Lebanon.”
A brochure on its website says ATFL “mobilizes its access to senior U.S. and Lebanese government officials, Congress and the Congressional Caucus on U.S.-Lebanon Relations” towards its policy priorities.
Several members of the Sununu family, who are of Lebanese heritage, have been involved in ATFL since its inception. A representative at the organization’s Washington-based offices confirmed that both John H. and John E. Sununu, the governor’s father and brother, have been honored at past ATFL galas. The senior Sununu served as New Hampshire governor in the 1980s, and John E. Sununu was a congressman and senator.
The ATFL gala attended by Sununu last week is the group’s only annual fundraising event.