Christine Stuart photo
Speaker of the House Chris Donovan (Christine Stuart photo)

Speaker of the House Chris Donovan responded to charges from State Republican Chairman Chris Healy today in an emotional news conference at the state Capitol.

Healy filed a complaint with the state Elections Enforcement Commission earlier in the day Friday alleging that Donovan misspent public campaign funds on a number of things including a manicure, fast food restaurants, and Amtrak tickets. All the expenditures were made in December, a month after the campaign ended.

“Chris Healy needs to get his facts straight before he files a complaint,” Donovan said Friday, adding that the unauthorized charges in his campaign finance records came about after a troubled teenage daughter of a campaign staffer absconded with the campaign’s credit card.

Donovan said as soon as his campaign staffer, who also works in his legislative office, discovered the unauthorized purchases she notified the state Elections Enforcement Commission and asked how it should be handled. He said she was told to enter all the unauthorized expenditures as miscellaneous expenses and then to reimburse the state almost $2,200.

“Did he bother checking? Did he read that the reimbursements were made? No. He wanted to score political points because he knows I care about public financing and he wanted to make a statement, not knowing what danger he could actually put this woman in,” Donovan said. “She has a severe mental illness.”

“Speaker Donovan knows the law, but he didn’t follow it,” Healy said in a press release sent along with the complaint Friday. “As a leader, he should know that public supported campaigns require its recipients to follow the letter and spirit of the laws. Sadly neither occurred and the public’s money was wasted on Slim Jims, Slurpie’s and Christmas cards.”

In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Healy said that shortly after he filed the complaint he received a phone call from staff at the state Elections Enforcement Commission who explained that some of the unauthorized charges had been reimbursed. He said he understands that some of the charges were related to the troubled teenager, but still had questions about four or five charges made.

He said one of the suspicious charges includes Amtrak tickets to Washington D.C. where President Barack Obama was inaugurated in January. Donovan said Friday that the troubled teenager absconded to New York, which is where most of the miscellaneous charges were made. Donovan’s office said Amtrak’s main offices are headquartered in Washington D.C. which is why they were instructed to use that address in the report. Healy said other suspicious charges include cellphone bills which were 30-days past due.

“Look, I never brought this woman into the debate,” Healy said.

He questioned why Donovan wouldn’t have released all this information himself when he first discovered the error. He said a reasonable person looking at the report would never be able to determine that these expenditures had been reimbursed. He said there was no explanation filed with the campaign report.

He said why does Donovan want to preserve, protect, and defend the Citizens Election Fund, if it’s not a transparent process.

The back and forth between Healy and Donovan Friday highlighted a week long debate over whether the state should take the $40 to $60 million in the public campaign finance funds to plug the estimated $8.7 billion budget deficit.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell said earlier Friday morning that she would like to avoid raiding the Citizens Election Fund. She said she believes the state should leave enough money in the fund to help participating candidates in 2010.

Click here to view the report in question.