The federal investigation into the fundraising activities of House Speaker Chris Donovan’s U.S. congressional campaign has put Democratic fundraising at the state Capitol on hold, at least for the moment, CTNewsJunkie has learned.
In an email to supporters Friday, Rep. Kim Fawcett of Fairfield announced that a fundraiser at her home for House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey’s political action committee will be postponed until later in the summer.
“As you may have seen there have been some very serious accusations (and arrests) made regarding illegal fundraising of the current Connecticut State House Speaker Chris Donovan,” Fawcett wrote in an email obtained by CTNewsJunkie. “While the incoming Speaker and none of the co-hosts of the upcoming event at my house are involved in this investigation, we have decided to postpone all fundraising efforts while the inquiry into the current Speaker is being completed.”
The FBI has arrested Donovan’s congressional campaign finance director for conspiring to conceal the identity of straw donors who wanted to defeat the roll-your-own cigarette bill. The federal investigation has shaken up the state Capitol and the 5th District congressional race where Donovan was the endorsed Democrat.
In a phone interview Sunday, Sharkey explained that his PAC decided to hold off on fundraising voluntarily until the end of a June 12 special session of the state legislature. Sharkey will run that session in Donovan’s stead as a result of the unfolding scandal.
“Under the circumstances we thought it was appropriate,” Sharkey said. “We’ll resume after the special session.”
Fundraising for the three leadership PACs controlled by House Democrats is allowed to continue through the legislative session, but during that time the PACs are unable to receive donations from certain sources such as lobbyists or other individuals doing business with the General Assembly.
Sharkey was asked if he thinks the federal investigation may be more focused on political action committees at the state Capitol than Donovan’s campaign. “I don’t know anything,” he said. “But from what I’ve read the scrutiny is limited to the individuals who appear to be engaged in disguising contributions.”
He said he doesn’t think the federal probe points toward the state Capitol and the political action committees held by House and Senate leadership.
“If they were casting a wider net I’m not sure why federal authorities would have alerted Larry to the donations made to his PAC,” Sharkey said, referring to the donations received by PACs controlled by House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero.
On Friday, Cafero gave back $5,000 in donations after being informed by federal authorities that money from straw donors had made its way into House Republican leadership PACs. During that same meeting, Cafero said federal authorities told him that he was not the target of the federal investigation.
Meanwhile, Sharkey said a preliminary review of the House Democratic leadership PACs revealed that there don’t appear to be any unidentified donations.
The public financing and clean elections program passed in 2005 by the General Assembly allowed the leaders of the two caucuses to maintain their political action committees even though candidates who raise a certain amount of money in small donations under $100 qualify for public funds from the Citizens’ Election Program.
Candidates for state representative must raise $5,000 from at least 150 individuals in their district to qualify for more than $26,000 in state funds. Candidates for state senate must raise $15,000 from at least 300 individuals in their district to qualify for about $91,000 in state funds.
The leadership PACs exist to offer support and resources to all the state candidates. With Donovan running for Congress, the responsibility of maintaining the Democratic majority in the House has been passed along to Sharkey, even though his election for speaker isn’t until January 2013.
George Gallo, chief of staff for the House Republicans, said raising money through these leadership PACs is important, but not as important as it used to be since there’s a limit on how much money can be given to the campaigns.
He said PACs are limited to giving $3,500 in help to House races where it helps pay for about three quarters of the cost of a direct mailer to the entire district.
“It’s not manna from heaven,” Gallo added.