Citing the continued involvement of federal investigators in the 5th Congressional District race, Democrat Dan Roberti called Tuesday for stricter campaign finance laws and ethics. Citing Roberti’s lobbyist father, Edward Anderson drove from New Haven to Farmington, to watch what he called a “mind-numbing” press conference.
The congressional race certainly has the attention of the Feds, who arrested Chris Donovan’s campaign finance director on conspiracy charges in May. Then yesterday, Kevin Rennie reported that a federal grand jury was also looking into former Gov. John G. Rowland’s involvement with Republican candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley’s campaign.
But in his statement calling for the passage of what he called “Play for Pay” legislation, Roberti also took shots at Democratic opponent Elizabeth Esty, who he said may have accepted thousands from organizations regulated by her husband, the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Roberti also cited the campaign of Andrew Roraback, a Republican state senator who all but refused to take donations from lobbyists during the legislative session, for employing Rob Kane, another state senator who’s seeking reelection, as his campaign manager.
“It’s for these reasons that I am proposing three simple, common sense ethics reforms that can curb the influence of special interests that decide to play in federal campaigns with the goal of influencing legislation or regulation at any level of government,” Roberti said.
Roberti’s plan seeks to close a loophole that currently allows an individual or PAC with an interest before the state legislature to contribute to a local lawmaker’s federal campaign. It would also prohibit members of Congress from being lobbied by a member of their family.
It’s an interesting stance coming from a candidate whose father is a heavyweight lobbyist in Washington D.C. Roberti acknowledged his father, Vin Roberti, in his statement and said he would be able resist the influences of the interests funding his campaign.
“At the end of the day it’s going to be, ‘I’m really glad that you got to know me because of my father but I’m imposing these rules and this is the way it is.’ There can’t be any pay for play issues going on in Congress,” he said.
Roberti acknowledged that his father has “introduced him to people” and called donors on his behalf, but he insisted he was not using his father’s influence to raise money.
“I think that the press has read into a lot more about it. At the end of the day, I’m the one who’s picking up the phones, raising lots of money from not nearly as much people who are connected to him as possible,” he said.
Anderson, a self-described activist and business owner from New Haven, said he wasn’t buying the degree of separation Roberti was claiming from his father. He questioned the candidate during the press conference and offered him some unsolicited advice once it was over.
“You’re throwing a lot of stones here,” Anderson told Roberti. “You might want to rethink this.”
Roberti, who has pledged to run a positive campaign, said he didn’t think his statement violated that agreement. He defended the statement including a passage labeling Donovan an “example of how a culture of corruption can live in plain sight.”
“That’s corruption, I mean the affidavits are pretty clear on that. There was pay to play here,” he said, referencing the sting operation during which an undercover FBI agent pretended to be an investor seeking to influence legislation.“… That’s a culture of corruption by any definition and the Donovan campaign is responsible for it.”
The FBI arrested Donovan’s campaign finance director after he agreed to mask the source of money coming into the campaign through straw donors. Looking at a list of Roberti’s own political donations, Anderson questioned how the candidate was able to make them while still paying off student loans.
“Was that your money or were you acting as a conduit for your father?” Anderson asked.
“I was actually not acting as a conduit in any way, shape, or form,” Roberti answered.
Roberti said his family became successful after his senior year in college, after which trust funds were set up that he had access to.
“Instead of accessing it and buying a new car, I accessed it and gave it to a number of different philanthropic endeavors that I believe in and candidates,” he said.
Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Anderson said he found it hard to believe that someone with student loans had enough money lying around to donate as much as $10,000. According to OpenSecrets.org, Roberti has given nearly $84,000 to candidates and committees during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.
Anderson said he attended the press conference because he couldn’t believe Vin Roberti’s son was handing out advice on campaign finance ethics.
“It’s mind-numbing,” he said. “To hear Roberti lecture on money in politics—it’s amusing.”
The Donovan campaign was also critical of Roberti, saying any politician can call for cleaner elections in the middle of a campaign.
“What’s important is knowing that you have someone who’s always fighting to make government more transparent and accountable, and on that front Chris Donovan has spoken with action, not words,” campaign spokesman Gabe Rosenberg said. “Chris led the successful fight for the strongest campaign finance reform law in the country including public financing, clean contracting reform, and ethics reform, always looking out for Connecticut’s middle-class families.”