Monday, June 11, 2012

Donovan, DeLuca And the Moral Obligations Of The General Assembly


Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney called upon Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan to relinquish his position as Speaker following the arrest of his former finance chairman, Robert Braddock, for having concealed the identity of a donor, likely an FBI plant, who wanted to kill tax legislation on “roll your own” cigarette businesses in Connecticut.

Pointing to an affidavit used to secure the arrest of Mr. Braddock, Mr. Kinney said, “The facts and allegations in the affidavit are a grave violation of the public trust and cast a pall on all of the legislative activities Speaker Donovan has participated in since announcing his run for the U.S. Congress in the 5th District,” a fairly damning assessment.

For his part, Mr. Donovan temporarily turned over the usufructs of his office to colleague Brendan Sharkey, who is expected to be appointed Speaker after Mr. Donovan’s term ends, and he has refused a call from one of his Democratic primary opponents, Dan Roberti, to step down as Speaker. After an exhilarating union rally in Hartford, Mr. Donovan pledged to carry forward his congressional campaign. Mr. Donovan’s defiance puts one in mind of former President Richard Nixon’s remark, even as Watergate was rising to his knees, that he was “not a crook.”

Two other Democratic congressional contenders vying for Senator Joe Lieberman’s soon to be vacant seat, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and present U.S. Representative Chris Murphy, have made precious few comments concerning the arrest of Mr. Braddock and the possible political repercussions on Mr. Donovan’s bid for Mr. Murphy’s current seat. Mr. Donovan has refused, on the advice of his criminal lawyer, to answer any media questions that touch on Speakergate.

Governor Dannel Malloy nodded off after having called upon Mr. Donovan to make himself available for media interrogations; even God sometimes sleeps, thank God.

Mr. Malloy’s chief concern is to ensure the passage of the “roll your own” tax. After passing the tax increase to end all tax increases at the beginning of his term, the state budget – never in balance – once again is wading into the red, and more taxes are necessary to satisfy the ravenous appetite of the governor, the Democratic majority in the General Assembly and Mr. Malloy’s Malloyalists. Ben Barnes, the governor’s Office of Policy Management (OPM) chief, grows leaner and hungrier every day. The administration is depending upon Donovan factotum Brendan Sharkey, the Speaker’s handpicked replacement, to speed the plow during the upcoming special session, and he will not disappoint. Come Hell, high water or FBI investigations, Mr. Malloy will have his tax.

This is is not the first time the FBI had inflicted a sting operation on a member of the General Assembly. Only five years ago, Senator Lou DeLuca was forced to surrender his position in the General Assembly as leader of state Republicans after much ado about something was made concerning a domestic problem. While the Donovan mess has yet to mature, a comparison with the FBI sting operation that ensnared Mr. DeLuca is instructive.

 An FBI agent, posing as a thug working for mob connected trash magnate James Galante, offered to “take care” of Mr. DeLuca’s son in law; in mob-speak, “take care of” and “bump off” are considered equivalent locutions.  A Courant report at the time tells us: “On June 4, 2007, Senator DeLuca pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor threatening charge, received a suspended sentence, and was ordered to pay a fine. On June 12, 2007, DeLuca announced he would step down as leader of the Senate Republicans and was replaced by 28th District Senator John McKinney, son of late Congressman Stewart McKinney.”

Early in the DeLuca affair, Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) Tom Swam urged the Senate to investigate Mr. DeLuca “to dispel public doubts and suspicions, according to a report in the Waterbury Republican American published on CCAG’s internet site. Mr. Swan, recently chosen by Mr. Donovan to replace his fired campaign director, had sensed a fatal hesitancy in the General Assembly: “I think there is a hesitancy to act."  Mr. Swan wrote Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney asking them to appoint a bipartisan committee to look into the DeLuca affair.

Although Mr. DeLuca was yet under investigation by the FBI, the General Assembly began a hearing to nudge Mr. DeLuca from the Senate. The co-chairmen of the investigating committee were senators Martin Looney, now a Democratic  Majority Leader, and Andrew Roraback, now the Republican Party nominee for the 5t5h District i8n the U.S. Congress. Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, tail spinning at the time into a full throated condemnation mode, made it plain that one of the purposes of the hearing would be to force the resignation of Mr. DeLuca:

“Because of Senator DeLuca’s unwillingness to do the right thing, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney had no choice but to call for the formation of this committee. I applaud both Sen. Williams and McKinney for creating a bi-partisan process for dealing with misconduct of its members.

“It’s unfortunate that Sen. DeLuca is making a bad situation worse by not resigning now. His actions will hit taxpayers in the wallet and further erode public trust in government officials, just as the state is preparing for municipal elections. DeLuca’s actions only increase the distrust and disgust many people have for their government and that results in, among other things, low voter turnout.”

Then Representative Edith Prague added her voice and prestige to the crowd insistantly calling for the resignation of Mr. DeLuca.  This writer was among the first columnists to call for Mr. DeLuca’s resignation. The integrity of the Senate was the  chief concern of the now retired Mrs. Prague. Mr. DeLuca, she insisted, should be questioned on oath by the Senate investigating committee to insure, under threat of perjury, that the senator would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning his domestic affairs. The six member investigating committee, Mrs. Prague stressed, had been too patient with Mr. DeLuca:

“His resignation is absolutely required to maintain the integrity of the Senate. His testimony -- arguing whether it should be under oath or not under oath -- was absolutely outrageous. There should have been no question that his testimony and the questions and answers should be under oath. I was very upset watching that hearing, thinking what a mockery of the Senate and the bipartisan committee it was. ... I feel the committee is not being tough. Would he have that option in court? I don't think so. That man should resign from the Senate, and if he doesn't resign, we should expel him. If they don't vote to expel him, I will vote `no' on reprimand or censure.''

One cannot help but ask “Where is the sense of urgency in the Speakergate controversy?” Naturally, one would not expect a sense of urgency from Mr. Swan, who now finds himself on the staff of his old friend Mr. Donovan, but what of the other players in the General Assembly? Why has no one called for a hearing to investigate the corrupt and illegal activity swirling about the Speaker of the House?

Mrs. Prague’s strong moral voice is lost to the House now that she is no longer a member, but many of the other government officials who counseled Mr. DeLuca to leave office so that the honor of the General Assembly might be preserved are still walking the hallowed halls of the Capitol or running for re-election.

Is no one disturbed that a flaccid response from Democratic leaders in the General Assembly has anesthetized the moral outrage that should arise when a Speaker of the House is forced by an FBI inquiry to fire his arrested finance director, as well as aides identified in an affidavit as co-conspirators in a plot that besmirches the honor of the institution served by those who in the past rightly proceeded to call for a legislative hearing in a previous FBI investigation against Mr. DeLuca?

To be sure, it is important not to jump the gun. Mr. Donovan has not been advised that he is a target of an FBI investigation, the trip wire that did in the DeLuca case and should in very similar cases arouse the enmity of legislators concerned with the honor of the General Assembly.

Mr. McKinney has done well to call upon Mr. Donovan to surrender his position as Speaker. Others also have done so. Why has this seed fallen on such morally exhausted and parched ground?

While the FBI investigation is still in its larval stage, it is not too soon to demand that Mr. Donovan should leave his post as Speaker. Should Mr. Donovan decline to do so, the General Assembly is not without sanctions. The House especially might open a hearing so that members of the General Assembly may put questions to Mr. Donovan under oath – for precisely the reasons stated by Mrs. Prague. If under these circumstances Mr. Donavan’s lawyers advise him to avoid answering questions that may impact upon a possible criminal proceeding, he can avail himself of his Fifth Amendment right to decline to answer such questions on the grounds that any answer may incriminate him. For reasons that remain obscure, Mr. Donovan’s staff have brought dishonor upon every legislator in the General Assembly. The state legislature has a moral and institutional obligation to defend its own honor, and that defense, as was shown in the DeLuca case, need not wait upon the completion of the FBI’s case.
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