It always helps if the person slated for destruction assists in the operation. In this regard, Speaker of the State House of Representatives Chris Donovan has been an obliging subject.
Mr. Donovan missed his all-important curtain call – a non-negotiable demand from Connecticut’s left of center media that he present himself instantly to answer some nagging questions -- instead sending the director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group (CCAG), Tom Swan, to catch the flack coming his way after the finance director for Mr. Donovan’s now faltering campaign for the U.S. House in the 5th District was arrested in what appears to be a successful FBI sting operation.
Mr. Donovan has hired two lawyers to help him weather the coming storm, the resourceful Stan Twardy, a political operative in the administration of then Governor Lowell Weicker, and a stand-by criminal lawyer.
Mr. Donovan fired his corrupted finance director and replaced his campaign manager, Josh Nassi, with Mr. Swan, who for many years has been at the helm of CCAG, trying his best to turn what had been a consumer oriented organization into an annex of the left wing of the state’s Democratic Party. Mr. Swan has been largely successful. When he floated from CCAG to chief flack catcher in the Donovan caravan, the transition was effortless.
Mr. Twardy, a past contributor to the campaigns of former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd and former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, has been around the corrupt finance manager block before. The former U.S. Attorney was hired by Mr. Shays, now running for the same U.S. House seat coveted by Mr. Donovan, when Mr. Shays’ campaign manager, Michael Sohn, was imprisoned for a little more than three years after having pled guilty on a 12-count indictment charging him with having embezzled about $250,000 in campaign funds.
Due to be released from prison in 2013 and poorer than a church mouse, Mr. Sohn finds himself unable to pay off the creditors who had invested in Mr. Shays’ failed congressional campaign. For his part, Mr. Shays has said the creditors should apply to the indigent Mr. Sohn – not him – for payment of bills due.
Doubtless, one of Mr. Donovan’s two lawyers have told the beleaguered Speaker of the State House that he should put a brick on his tongue until they are able to peek at the cards prosecutors are holding close to their chests. Better to incur the disfavor of a dyspeptic media than to say something publically that may lead to unwanted legal misfortune, eh?
The horns of the dilemma upon which Mr. Donovan finds himself tossed are usual in such cases: Either Mr. Donovan knew what his finance chairman was up to and therefore is legally complicit, or he was not watching the campaign store and therefore is incompetent; in either case he is not fit to represent the people of the 5th District in Congress.
One of Mr. Donovan’s Republican opponents, Mark Greenberg, made the point tellingly in a press release following a media sidewalk interview during which Mr. Donovan planted himself firmly on one of the two horns.
"Let me be very clear about this,” Mr. Donovan said. “At no time did I know that anyone might have been trying to funnel illegal contributions to my campaign. No one ever made a deal with me as a quid pro quo."
Mr. Donovan, who as Speaker of the state House steers bills though the legislative process, said he was unaware of the bill, which would have raised $3.4 million a year from about 15 roll-your-own cigarette machines in the state. The campaign contribution accepted by Mr. Donovan’s fired campaign finance chairmen was supposed to have resulted in the bill’s dismissal, ultimately a casualty of an end of session legislative pile-up.
Reading from a statement that possibly passed under the nose of his criminal defense attorney, Mr. Donovan said of the bill during his sidewalk interview, “I did not know about it at any point during the legislative session." At the same time, Mr. Donovan adamantly refused – on advice of counsel? – to discuss the corruption investigation that led to the arrest of his campaign finance director, giving Mr. Greenberg an opportunity to launch the standard rejoinder:
"By refusing to discuss the corruption investigation into his campaign, Chris Donovan raised more questions than he answered. Two days ago, I called on Chris Donovan to resign as Speaker and suspend his campaign for Congress and I continue to maintain that he should step down. Donovan either knew or should have known that this illegal activity was occurring in his campaign. Whether this is a gross violation of the public trust or gross mismanagement, the people of Connecticut deserve better."
Mr. Greenberg was not alone in calling upon Mr. Donovan to resign as Speaker. In a Sunday editorial, the Hartford Courant reminded everyone that it had called upon Mr. Donovan to resign his position as Speaker when he had opened his 5th District campaign: “Mr. Donovan should have stepped down as speaker the minute his campaign for Congress began in order to avoid the inevitable conflicts of interest or appearances of conflict that this fund-raising scandal has brought to the fore.”
The score so far? Mr. Donovan is not stepping down as Speaker; he has temporarily shifted the responsibilities of his office to his handpicked successor, Brendan Sharkey. Mr. Donovan will not in future talk about the corruption issue under litigation; and he is soldiering on in his bid for the U.S. Congress.
That’s three strikes.