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Donovan needs to provide answers

Published June 12. 2012 4:00AM

Connecticut House Speaker Christopher Donovan, a candidate for the Democratic congressional nomination in the 5th District, needs to answer questions about alleged corruption in his campaign for Congress.

Mr. Donovan says that federal investigators have urged him not to comment about the ongoing investigation. But Mr. Donovan can only interfere with the investigation if he knows something, and so far he has invoked the know-nothing defense. The Speaker contends if those on his staff did anything illegal, he was unaware. That in itself is an indictment.

The other reason a politician clams up when his campaign is under investigation is the danger of saying something incriminating. As a candidate for high office, such an excuse will certainly not do. Mr. Donovan at least needs to answer every question he can. His contention that answering any question about the matter could hinder the investigation is a self-serving stretch.

The FBI alleges that the Donovan campaign accepted multiple maximum contribution checks of $2,500 from several pass-through donors, knowing that they were intended to hide the true source of $20,000 in political contributions. The FBI affidavit reports that one source was ostensibly a "roll-your-own" tobacco shop hoping to use the accumulated donations to gain the speaker's influence in killing a proposed new state cigarette tax on such products. In reality, the big donor was an undercover FBI agent pretending to represent a smoke shop.

The FBI affidavit alleges that two co-conspirators helped put together the donations and conceal from federal election authorities the true source of two groups of $10,000 payments. Citing sources, the Hartford Courant has identified those alleged co-conspirators as Paul Rogers, a former employee of a Waterbury smoke shop, and Ray Soucy, a Department of Corrections supervisor, labor union activist and Donovan supporter.

The Courant reports a third co-conspirator named in the affidavit is Joseph Nassi, who allegedly packaged the series of contributions used to mask the true donor. Before joining the Donovan for Congress campaign, Mr. Nassi was on the state payroll, receiving an $110,000 salary as chief policy counsel in the House speaker's office. He left that job to become Mr. Donovan's campaign manager.

Under arrest in the scandal is Robert Braddock Jr., the Donovan campaign finance director. The FBI alleges he conspired to hide the source of the $20,000 in political contributions.

The existence of an FBI sting strongly suggests investigators had serious suspicions about the integrity of the Donovan campaign. The FBI is not in the business of randomly undertaking sting operations targeting campaigns. Investigators, we conclude, suspected corruption.

Mr. Donovan has dismissed Mr. Braddock, Mr. Nassi and Sara Waterfall, who worked in the campaign's finance office.

The contention that this skullduggery was going on in his campaign and Mr. Donovan had no hint something was amiss stretches credibility. The $2,500 in checks arrived in April and again in May. Those familiar with congressional campaigns say such donations get the attention of the candidate, with a personal thank you and often a phone call or a meeting. This is particularly true in a tough primary campaign, which the speaker now faces.

Does Mr. Donovan normally contact such large donors? Did he try to contact these individuals? Was he successful? What was the conversation? Did these donations raise any red flags? What steps had Mr. Donovan taken to send the message to the leaders of his campaign organization to play within the rules?

These and related questions deserve answers.

Town News

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