By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The Republican leader of the Connecticut Senate on Friday called for Democratic congressional candidate Christopher Donovan to step down as state House speaker amid a federal investigation into alleged illegal campaign contributions.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield also urged the legislature to convene a committee of inquiry to investigate the allegations, because they involve state legislation, and to establish a standing committee on ethics.
“In light of this damning evidence of corruption, he should immediately relinquish his role as speaker of the House and have no involvement with drafting or negotiating any legislative language in preparation for the General Assembly’s June 12 special session,” McKinney said in a statement.
Donovan didn’t return messages Friday and his campaign had no immediate comment on McKinney’s comments.
Donovan’s campaign scheduled a press availability for 3 p.m. Friday outside the state Capitol, but it wasn’t clear if Donovan would be there.
The Meriden Democrat is his party’s endorsed candidate for the 5th District seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
On Wednesday, the finance director of Donovan’s campaign, Robert Braddock Jr., was arrested by federal authorities in what prosecutors are calling a conspiracy with others to hide the source of $20,000 in campaign contributions connected to an effort in April to kill legislation that would have raised taxes and fees on “roll-your-own” smoke shop owners. The bill didn’t make it to votes in the House or Senate and died when the legislative session ended May 9.
Federal authorities said the allegations involve “conduit” campaign contributions, which are donations made by one person in the name of another person.
Investigators said the illegal contributions were prompted by the legislation that would have deemed “roll-your-own” smoke shop owners as tobacco manufacturers under state law, subjecting them to a tax increase and hefty licensing fee.
After the bill cleared the finance committee in April, federal authorities said the potential enactment of the proposal prompted Braddock and other unnamed co-conspirators to arrange a $10,000 payment to Donovan’s campaign in the form of four $2,500 checks in the names of conduit contributors.
The conspirators later arranged another $10,000 payment after the bill died that included three checks from conduit contributors to Donovan’s campaign and a fourth check from a conduit contributor to a political party, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities say the investigation included numerous recorded conversations and several undercover FBI agents.
Donovan announced Thursday evening that he fired Braddock, who posted $100,000 bail. Braddock’s lawyer said his client is innocent.
McKinney also repeated a call made by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday for Donovan to fully explain what he knows. Malloy called the allegations “despicable.”
McKinney also referred to past corruption scandals that brought down former Gov. John G. Rowland, the mayors of Bridgeport and Hartford and other Connecticut politicians.
“Sadly, this is just the latest in a litany of examples of high profile state officials finding themselves embroiled in allegations of corruption,” McKinney said. “As we have done in the past, the legislature should convene a committee of inquiry to further investigate this matter and decide if the evidence of corruption warrants the speaker’s censure or expulsion from the House of Representatives.”
Donovan won the Democrats’ endorsement during the party’s convention on May 14. But two chief rivals– former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and public affairs consultant Dan Roberti of Kent– won enough support to participate in the Aug. 14 primary.
Republicans have endorsed state Sen. Andrew Roraback in the 5th District race, but he faces primary challenges from three fellow GOP candidates.
The campaigns of Esty and Roberti called for a thorough investigation into the allegations. Roraback said Donovan would be “unfit” to be a congressional candidate or House speaker, if the allegations are true and Donovan knew about the alleged crimes.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)