NEW HAVEN — A federal witness testified Friday that the fundraising pressure was mounting last April as former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign headed into the last filing deadline before the Democratic convention.
It was the “first opportunity for Chris to come up directly against his opponents,” Sarah Waterfall, the deputy finance director for Donovan‘s failed congressional campaign, testified Friday.
Through Waterfall, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei attempted to highlight the pressure on the Donovan’s campaign to compete with the fundraising efforts of Elizabeth Esty’s campaign. Esty went on win the 5th District congressional seat.
“We were trying very hard to meet as high a number as we could going into that convention, knowing that our opponents would be looking at it to see if there was any weakness in what we were doing,” she said.
The goal was to raise $1 million before the end of the reporting period and they were close but still $10,000 to $20,000 shy, Waterfall testified in the trial against her former boss, Robert Braddock Jr.
The prosecution rested its case Friday against Braddock, who is charged with trying to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign donations for smoke shop owners looking to defeat legislation detrimental to their business interests at the state Capitol.
Mattei asked Waterfall to explain some of the challenges the Donovan campaign faced in their fundraising efforts. Asked about how Donovan felt about fundraising, Waterfall said “he wasn’t a fan.”
But she said, “That’s the way most candidates are.”
When Frank Riccio, Braddock’s defense attorney, asked whether Donovan hated calling supporters for money and talking to people, Waterfall clarified that it was the fundraising aspect her former boss disliked, not talking.
“He didn’t like dialing for dollars. I wouldn’t say that Chris Donovan hated talking to people,” she said.
As the Democratic nominating convention approached, the top two fundraisers for the Donovan campaign were Harry “Ray” Soucy, the former correction officer turned FBI informant, and Mark Masselli, the founder of the Community Health Clinics. Masselli received $15 million in state bond funds in 2012 to expand his facilities.
According to Waterfall, Soucy had brought in about $10,000 in donations and Masselli about $15,000 at that point in the campaign.
Prosecutors brought in Mark Shonkwiler, a lawyer for the Federal Election Commission, to explain the concept of straw donors for the jury. The government is trying prove that Braddock helped to file false reports with the FEC, knowing that some of the contributions to Donovan’s campaign were funded by someone other than the donors who were recorded as the people who wrote the checks.
Shonkwiler said that straw donors are among the most serious problems facing the agency charged with overseeing federal elections. He called the practice a “fraud being perpetrated on the public.”
“[A straw donor] deprives both the FEC and the public of information as to who the true source of the money was,” he told the jury
In this case, the real source of the money was smoke shop owners who were making the donations through individuals not connected to their business in order to influence legislation that was first introduced by the Finance Committee on April 3, 2012.
Prosecutors presented a series of text messages Friday between Laura Jordan, Donovan’s chief of staff at the state Capitol, and House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz, whose nickname is “A to Z.”
Jordan: Is there going to b sub lang re cigarette rolling for a bill in fin today? If so, which bill?
Aresimowicz: Yes it is a DRS cleanup plus cigarette bill SB 357
Aresimowicz: W/ cig JF
Aresimowicz: We can fix it later unless you want to flip votes on it.
Aresimowicz: It is going to pass 30-17 and closes at 3:00
Aresimowicz: What do you want to do?
Aresimowicz: You around
Jordan: In a meeting.
Aresimowicz: No Probl
Aresimowicz voted for the legislation, which ended up passing the committee 33-17 that day. The session ended May 9 before a vote was taken on the bill. But the bill was raised during a special session on June 12, 2012, and passed along with other budget implementation language. Its passage was due in part to the fact that the federal indictment already had been released and lawmakers were aware of the attempt by smoke shop owners to influence the legislation.