An FBI sting targeted state Speaker Chris Donovans former finance director.
Some Connecticut Democrats are increasingly worried that fallout from a federal investigation surrounding state Speaker Chris Donovan could impair the party’s chances of holding Rep. Christopher Murphy’s seat this fall.
Donovan is the leading Democrat in the race to succeed Murphy, a fellow Democrat who is running for Senate. An FBI sting that resulted in the arrest of Donovan’s finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., threw his campaign into disarray earlier this month. Braddock is accused of involvement in an alleged quid pro quo scheme tying Congressional campaign donations and state tobacco tax legislation. Donovan went on to fire Braddock and two other staffers.
Donovan has not been implicated in any wrongdoing. But Democrats remain concerned about jeopardizing the party’s advantage in a competitive district and that more revelations could come.
One unaligned Democratic operative worried that Donovan’s ethical issues play into voter cynicism about politicians in a state that has struggled with corruption in the past.
“I just think there has been this culture of corruption on the Democratic side,” the source said. “This helps reopen a narrative that Democrats were trying to put behind them.”
The source added: “There’s not an appreciation of the [National Republican Congressional Committee] and some of these more conservative super PACs, who’ve already identified the 5th as a battleground area. They are not fully appreciating the kind of narrative Donovan’s campaign has provided for those groups.”
Still, many Democrats are taking a wait-and-see approach. Donovan is widely held in high regard, and many party insiders want to let the investigation play out before jumping to conclusions.
But even if he is completely cleared, he faces accusations of running an incompetent campaign and having improper oversight of campaign staffers.
The investigation has provided an opening for Donovan’s Democratic opponents: former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty and political newcomer Dan Roberti.
Esty, who had the most cash on hand as of the latest reporting period, has EMILY’s List backing and is considered to be Donovan’s strongest opponent. Her campaign has been silent on Donovan’s ethical issues.
Roberti, on the other hand, has engaged. He issued a press release when the investigation publicly unfolded this month, charging that Donovan “failed to be watchful and responsible in the conduct of his campaign.”
“When issues arise, we should address them,” Roberti said in an interview with Roll Call. He added that the investigation comes up often in his conversations with voters.
The Donovan campaign sidesteps questions about concerns some Democrats have about his strength as the party’s nominee.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.