The news broke like a sudden summer thunderstorm on Thursday: House Speaker and 5th district congressional candidate Chris Donovan’s finance director Robert Braddock Jr. had been arrested by federal authorities and charged with conspiracy to conceal the source of a campaign contribution.
What that means in a nutshell is that Braddock is accused of helping FBI agents posing as donors with a vested interest in killing a certain bill donate $20,000 to the campaign and the party in other people’s names. The idea is to cover up a money trail, and it’s blatantly illegal.
The arrest is just the beginning: now the hard questions begin. How much did Donovan know, and when did he know it? Did the donations have any effect on the eventual death of the bill, which would have required “roll your own” smoke shops to buy a pricey manufacturing license? How many people in Donovan’s campaign knew about what was going on, and how many supported it? Donovan was running behind in campaign contributions, was there a push to get donations through any means necessary? “It was a very good investment for us to kill that bill,” one of the co-conspirators said to Braddock in a taped phone call. The Register-Citizen recently explored legal, if eyebrow-raising, monetary connections between donors to Donovan’s campaign and action in the legislature, so what was different about this situation? And, maybe most importantly, has this happened other times? How many other contributions are now suspect?
The political sharks are already circling, though cautiously thus far. State Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, one of Donovan’s potential GOP opponents in the 5th district, suggested that if the allegations were true Donovan should resign (and presumably drop out of the race). Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement calling the allegations “despicable” and said that “[Donovan’s] position requires that he give our residents a full explanation of what he knows,” suggesting that he’s not about to provide Donovan with any cover. Donovan’s Democratic opponents, Elizabeth Esty and Dan Roberti, merely stressed the seriousness of the allegations, though it’s hard not to hear the knives being sharpened in the background.
This investigation is about to consume the once-sleepy 5th district primary, which up until now had looked more like a coronation for Donovan than not. Donovan easily won the convention’s endorsement a few weeks ago, and seemed to be on track to win the primary as well. Now all of that is thrown into chaos. Donovan’s campaign fired Braddock and campaign manager Josh Nassi, and CCAG director Tom Swan is now at the helm. It’s interesting that the first move the campaign has made is essentially a political one, so I expect the denials and obfuscations will start soon. But the investigation marches on, and sources are now saying that Donovan himself is the focus of a federal probe. It’s now deeply uncertain whether he can effectively continue as a candidate in the 5th district race or as Speaker of the House during the upcoming special session.
For anyone familiar with Connecticut politics this is a depressingly familiar story. From former Gov. John Rowland and former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to former (and possibly future) State Sen. Ernest Newton and former Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca, the last decade has been filled with disgraced public officials. Donovan can help himself by being honest and up-front with the public as quickly as possible. Instead of shying away from tough questions about his record as Speaker and donations to his campaign, he should tackle them head-on. Gov. Malloy said in his statement that “allegations like this not only damage a campaign or a candidate, they also undermine citizens’ belief in their government’s ability to carry out its responsibilities,” and he’s absolutely right.
The next few days will be difficult ones for Donovan as the fallout from the Braddock arrest and ongoing investigation continue. The Speaker owes it to the public he serves to tell us what he knows, and to answer the hard questions as quickly as possible.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the former owner of CT Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.