EMILY’s List, a political action committee that works to get pro-choice women elected, came under fire from some progressive women Friday for its support of Elizabeth Esty in the 5th Congressional District race.

At issue are mailers the PAC plans to send to 5th district voters attacking one of Esty’s opponents in the Democratic primary, House Speaker Chris Donovan. The mailers target Donovan’s voting record on issues like taxes and voting to raise his own salary.

“Chris Donovan’s 20 year record for Connecticut speaks for itself: exorbitant pay raises and the biggest tax hike in Connecticut history. Middle class families are paying the price,” Denise Feriozzi, director of WOMEN VOTE! said in a press release last week. “Elizabeth Esty returned taxpayer money and is committed to responsible budgeting. We are confident that once voters learn Chris Donovan’s record, they’ll choose Elizabeth Esty to represent them in Congress.”

The mailers received criticism from some female Donovan supporters who say they employ Republican talking points to attack a candidate who has a strong voting record on women’s issues. They held a rally Friday outside the New Britain Community Health Center to chide EMILY’s List and reaffirm their support for Donovan.

State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said if the group wants to endorse candidates based strictly on the fact that they’re female and pro-choice, they are welcome to do so but the mailers go too far.

“For them to instead take it so much further and to use Republican talking points to attack someone who’s been a tremendous leader for women throughout the state of Connecticut for 20 years is simply wrong,” she said.

Flexer said the types of criticisms the mailers use also hurt Democratic women in the legislature whose voting records are similar to Donovan’s.

“These are exactly the kind of attacks that led to us losing ground in the number of female legislators in 2010. We lost five Democratic women in the House in 2010 because of this same sort of rhetoric that EMILY’s List put in Democratic women’s mailboxes yesterday. We’re disgusted by this,” she said.

For the record, EMILY’s List spokeswoman Jen Bluestein notes that no mailers have actually been sent yet. Bluestein also disputes Flexer’s assertion the group was employing Republican talking points. She said she suspects the Donovan supporters, in holding a press conference, were trying to change up a news cycle that hasn’t been kind to the Donovan campaign.

Yesterday, a second member of Donovan’s campaign — former campaign manager Josh Nassi — was arrested on federal conspiracy charges. Nassi, along with former Donovan campaign finance director Robert Braddock Jr., have pled not guilty to allegations they conspired to hide the source of donations to the campaign.

One union official and five smoke-shop investors have been arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into straw donations to the Donovan campaign. Though Donovan himself has not been accused by federal authorities of any wrongdoing, each time the U.S. Attorney’s Office releases an indictment expanding upon the alleged conspiracy, the documents appear to place the candidate closer to alleged illegal activities. Donovan himself has denied any knowledge of the illegal conduct.

In the most recent indictment, Nassi, in a conversation recorded by the FBI, makes comments that suggest Donovan knew about the plan to defeat the legislation opposed by the smoke shop investors.

According to the indictment, in a conversation with Nassi, Ray Soucy, the former union official and correction officer, said, “So [Public Official Number l] put out the word, ‘dead’?” NASSI responded, “Yeah. Yes he did.” But there was no other evidence in the indictments to date to suggest that Donovan had actually done so.

Bluestein suggested the candidates supporters were attacking EMILY’s List to create a diversion.

“What I think voters are most concerned about is finding someone whom they can trust and who will fight for them in Washington, and the arrest of six people yesterday including Speaker Donovan’s top aide, is shocking. It’s not surprising that Donovan’s backers want to distract from the news of the day, but this is just inaccurate,” Bluestein said.

Lori Pelletier, secretary-treasurer of Connecticut AFL-CIO, said that even with the indictments, she believes Donovan is the best candidate in the district.

“As far as we’re concerned Chris Donovan is the strongest candidate. He has stood up for 20 years,” Pelletier said.

Supporters say their problems with the mailers have as much to do with Esty’s voting record as it does Donovan’s support of women’s issues. Esty served in the state legislature in 2008 and 2009 and voted against the Democratic budget in 2009. Esty supported an alternative budget, which increased income taxes on singles earning $250,000 and couples earning $500,000 per year, but which was $631 million out of balance according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Rep. Linda Schofield of Simsbury, an Esty supporter who was involved with the Democratic alternative budget in 2009, said the document OFA costed out was an early draft and not the final product. The final version of the bill was in balance, she said.

“Under the Democratic alternative budget plan that Elizabeth Esty supported, women on Medicare would have lost coverage for preventative dental care,” Julie Kushner, director of Region 9A UAW, said. “Worse, numerous hospitals across the state would have been closed, making it harder for women and their families to get emergency and specialized care.”

Jane Blakeman, a registered voter in Morris, said she was disappointed in both Esty and EMILY’s List.

“They’re not vetting their candidates. It’s a disappointment to myself and several women,” Blakeman said.

But Esty’s campaign is not buying the argument.

“Enough is enough. It’s disgusting that both of Elizabeth’s opponents are engaging in swift boat tactics to distort Elizabeth’s record and distract from the serious problems in their own campaigns,” Jeb Fain, an Esty campaign spokesman, said

Esty and Donovan will face off in an Aug. 14 primary that also includes Dan Roberti of Kent.