House Speaker Chris Donovan was celebrating his daughter’s 20th birthday Friday, while Tom Swan, his new campaign manager, took about 30 minutes of questions from news media regarding the federal allegations and Donovan’s future as both speaker of the House and a candidate in the 5th Congressional District.
“Chris wants to figure out more information, like all of us do, about what happened and be able to determine the appropriate next steps for when he sits down and talks to people,” Swan said.
Several lawmakers, opposing candidates, and fellow Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have called upon Donovan, who built his political career on union and good government issues, to offer an explanation.
Swan, who took a leave of absence from his post as executive director of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, said he would not have taken on the role of campaign manager if Donovan hadn’t looked him in the eye and told him he hadn’t done anything wrong. He said he’s known Donovan for 18 years and has worked with him very closely.
“I looked him right in the eye and asked him if there was any truth to this, and did you do anything wrong? And he looked me in the eye and he said ‘No’,” Swan recalled.
Swan said Donovan had no knowledge of any alleged wrongdoing in his campaign.
Donovan retained attorney Shelly Sadin a short time after learning about the allegations. Sadin did not immediately respond to messages. The campaign has hired former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy to audit its financials and to report any errors or omissions to the federal government, Swan said. Twardy’s investigation will begin Saturday and will last 15 days.
“Stan Twardy is not a friend of Chris Donovan,” Swan said.
According to Twardy’s biography on Day Pitney LLP’s website, he successfully prosecuted white-collar crimes as a U.S. Attorney. Twardy also worked for former Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. from January 1991 through February 1993.
If Twardy finds any ill-gotten campaign contributions, the money will be turned over to the Citizens’ Election Program, the publicly financed campaign system created by the legislature after former Gov. John Rowland went to prison on corruption charges.
At the Capitol press conference Swan also made it clear that Donovan will not be stepping down as speaker and he will not be exiting the congressional race where he’s in a three-way primary contest.
A Republican lawmaker called on Donovan Friday to step aside as speaker for the June 12 special session, and while Swan said he wouldn’t be stepping down as speaker he will leave the negotiations for the special session in little more than a week to House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey.
The governor’s office issued a statement praising Donovan’s decision to turn the reins over to Sharkey.
“The speaker made the right decision today when he decided to turn his responsibilities for the Special Session over to Rep. Sharkey,” Malloy said. “There’s a lot of important work to do between now and June 12th, and then on June 12th, and the speaker’s active participation would have been a distraction.”
As for Donovan’s future, the governor urged him to quickly give the issue a lot of thought and then to speak publicly. In a statement, Attorney General George Jepsen said the allegations “cast doubt on the integrity of legislative actions at the core of Speaker Donovan’s responsibilities.” He agreed Donovan needed to think carefully about how he proceeds.
“As the investigation unfolds, he will need to guide his actions by what is best for the people of Connecticut, even should that come at the expense of his congressional campaign or his tenure as House Speaker,” Jepsen said.
As for the future of his congressional campaign and the fundraising efforts he will need to make in order to compete, Swan said that has not been his first priority.
“We recognize that we don’t have the luxury of time on our hands,” Swan said. “Having said that I’ve never joined a campaign where a candidate had such a broad base, such a deep base of support.”
Swan believes that support will translate into dollars and volunteer support.
“We’re going to be able to rally those folks to organize and to fight like, in many ways we never have before, and that will include money,” Swan said.
Swan was able to confirm that the campaign got rid of the entire finance department, including Robert Braddock Jr., who was charged with conspiracy by the FBI, Josh Nassi, the campaign manager, and Sarah Waterfall, the deputy campaign manager.
Swan admitted that while the federal investigation remains on the front pages of newspapers across the state the campaign has been off-message for at least two days and with less than 10 weeks left until the primary, every day counts.
“Folks are going to rally around him and organize as never before because they know he is the only fighter for Connecticut’s families in the 5th Congressional District,” Swan said.
While Donovan may be hoping supporters rally around him, many of his colleagues are hoping he will answer questions publicly. Malloy, Jepsen, and also Republicans in the House and Senate have all called for the speaker to personally answer for the allegations. Following Swan’s press conference, Senate President Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney added their voices to the call. They issued a statement saying Donovan was correct to recuse himself from special session negotiations but still needed to explain himself to the public.
“The allegations regarding concealed contributions, however, are serious and disturbing. We urge the speaker to immediately, directly and personally answer all questions related to these allegations,” they said.