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New Donovan Campaign Manager Says He Won’t Step Down — But Will Hand Over Some Leadership Duties

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DAVE COLLINS,Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An FBI investigation into the finances of his congressional campaign will not keep Christopher Donovan from running or force him to step down as the Connecticut House speaker, his campaign manager said Friday.

Campaign manager Tom Swan said at a news conference that Donovan was not aware of the alleged wrongdoing and didn’t take part in it. He said Donovan will let House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey handle leadership and negotiation responsibilities of an upcoming special legislative session, but Donovan will participate and vote.

“Chris did nothing wrong, and if I thought for one second there was a question about that I wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Swan, who took over as Donovan’s campaign manager Thursday.

Swan also said the campaign will be hiring former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy to investigate the allegations and report back to Donovan. Swan said Donovan has been cooperating with investigators and would turn over information from Twardy’s investigation to them.

Swan also said Donovan has retained a lawyer.

Donovan, of Meriden, the endorsed Democrat in the 5th District race, wasn’t at the news conference, despite calls for him to address the public. Donovan was with his daughter for her 20th birthday, Swan said.

“In terms of what comes next for the speaker, I urge him to give it a lot of thought, quickly, and come forward and speak to the people of Connecticut,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a fellow Democrat, said in a statement Friday.

Justin Bernier, a Republican rival in the 5th District race, said, “Chris Donovan should speak for himself whether or not he is guilty of corruption.”

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that the finance manager for Donovan’s campaign, Robert Braddock Jr., was arrested for allegedly conspiring with others to hide the source of $20,000 in campaign contributions. Braddock is free on $100,000 bail, and his lawyer says he’s innocent.

The allegations involve “conduit” campaign contributions, which are donations made by one person in the name of another person, and were connected to an effort in April to kill legislation that would have raised taxes and fees on “roll-your-own” smoke shop owners, authorities said. The bill didn’t make it to votes in the House or Senate and died when the legislative session ended May 9.

Swan took over as campaign manager on Thursday after Donovan fired Braddock, campaign manager Josh Nassi and another person who dealt with finances. No one else has been arrested.

Earlier Friday, the Republican leader of the state Senate called for Donovan to step down as House speaker amid the federal investigation.

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 is running for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the U.S. Senate. But Donovan faces a primary in August against two party rivals, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and public affairs consultant Dan Roberti of Kent.

Esty and Roberti haven’t criticized Donovan but are calling for a thorough investigation by federal authorties.

Republicans have endorsed state Sen. Andrew Roraback in the 5th District race, but he faces primary challenges from Bernier, businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley and businessman Mark Greenberg.

Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Democratic State Central Committee, said Donovan hasn’t lost the support of Democratic leaders.

“From the evidence we have seen, which is in the newspaper, it appears that Chris has done no wrong,” DiNardo said. “But unfortunately it will be difficult for him to get that message out to the public … and convince voters he had nothing to do with it.”

Swan predicted that Donovan’s supporters won’t jump ship and will propel him to victory in the primary and November election.

But some political observers wondered if Donovan’s campaign could recover.

“This is devastating,” said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. “It’s going to obviously cast a cloud of suspicion over his frontrunner status, his campaign in general.

“I think it does have the potential … to actually prevent him from winning the Aug. 14 primary,” Rose said. “I am certain his opponents … will do all they can to remind voters of this very troubling and scandalous situation.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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