(Updated 12:40) Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney called on House Speaker Chris Donovan to step down from his position on Friday in the wake of allegations his finance director traded on his position in the General Assembly in exchange for congressional campaign cash.
“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 12th Special Session,” McKinney said in a statement.
Donovan was not immediately available for comment, but his new campaign manager is expected to hold a press conference Friday afternoon.
While McKinney is urging Donovan to throw in the towel, his House counterpart Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said it’s “premature” to assume Donovan is guilty of wrongdoing. However, he said the speaker needs to clear the air and answer questions regarding the allegations.
“I know Chris. He’s always had respect for the institution but he needs to clarify these serious allegations and explain himself to the public,” Cafero said.
News that Donovan would not be appearing personally at his campaign’s press conference Friday was disappointing, Cafero said.
It is entirely possible that Donovan’s campaign staff arranged for the illegal donations without his knowledge, Cafero said. Candidates hire people and trust them to abide by campaign rules and to avoid accepting money that deviates from lawful donations, he said.
“You assume people will follow those rules,” he said. “But the buck ultimately stops at the top. No pun intended.”
In addition to calling for an explanation from Donovan, McKinney also disputed the events leading up to the end of session and the roll-your-own cigarette legislation at the center of the federal probe.
In a phone interview Friday, McKinney said it’s incorrect to state that the reason the legislation died was because of a gas tax amendment Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, had filed on the roll-your-own cigarette legislation.
“We all had a conversation and agreed to allow Len to offer his amendment on the budget,” McKinney said.
He said Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney had been concerned Suzio would offer the amendment on his revaluation bill and wanted to reach an agreement over when it should be raised.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, said Thursday that one of the reasons the legislation was never called was because Suzio planned to introduce an amendment to the bill that would have eaten up precious time in the final days of the session.
“We were informed it was going to be a talker,” Joseph said. “Trying to manage the Senate calendar and the flow of business, it wasn’t raised.”
“That’s a knowingly false statement,” McKinney alleged Friday.
In a phone interview Friday, Joseph said the amendment was only one reason the bill was never called, and even without it the bill would have been a “talker.”
“At the end of the session you have to make decisions about what has time to move and what doesn’t,” Joseph said. “The thinking was it could get done during an implementer session.”
Meanwhile, McKinney used the federal investigation as a reason for the General Assembly to establish a standing Ethics Committee to investigate these matters.
In 2007 lawmakers established the temporary bipartisan committee to investigate the allegations against then-Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca. The Woodbury Republican resigned rather than risk expulsion for asking a trash hauler with reputed ties to organized crime to threaten his granddaughter’s allegedly abusive husband.
“Connecticut has a reprehensible reputation for misconduct among its elected leaders and yet is one of only two states that do not have a standing committee on ethics to investigate allegations of misconduct and determine appropriate sanctions,” McKinney concluded.
Democratic State Central Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo urged the public Friday to reserve judgment on Donovan until the investigation is concluded.
In a phone conversation with CTNewsJunkie, DiNardo said “people should not make assumptions about who was involved. From what I read, Chris has no involvement in this.”
Donovan has yet to deny any knowledge of the situation.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report