Donovan reappears in Capitol forum, but remains mum on campaign scandal

For the first time since his campaign finance director’s arrest one month ago, state House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan participated Monday in a public event at the Capitol — although he had little to say to reporters afterward.

The speaker, whose bid for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District will be settled at a primary next month, was relatively coy about an independent investigation into the scandal, the cost of that probe and the prospect of debates with the other Democratic candidates.

But the Meriden lawmaker insisted his one-on-one communications with voters in the 5th District have continued to be positive despite the controversy hanging over his campaign.

“People are excited to see me,” Donovan told reporters, taking questions after appearing at a Legislative Office Building press conference with a dozen other state legislators to discuss the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on national health care reform.

“People are worried about jobs, they’re worried about health care,” Donovan said, adding that district voters are pleased to find a candidate prepared to talk about those issues with them. “I’ve been getting a great reaction. I’ve been busy all weekend.”

Donovan hasn’t had much to say to the media, though, since news broke May 31 that the FBI had charged his congressional campaign fundraiser, Robert Braddock Jr., with illegally concealing the source of two $10,000 contributions. The donations allegedly were given in exchange for help in killing tobacco legislation before the state legislature last spring.

Donovan fired Braddock and Josh Nassi, his campaign manager, and hired Tom Swan of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group to help the campaign.

And while Donovan held a June 3 press conference in his home community at which he insisted he never knew anyone who might have been trying to disguise campaign contributions or to peddle influence, he also would not discuss any aspect of the investigation of his campaign that wasn’t already public.

The campaign also retained former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, the managing partner of law firm Day Pitney, to conduct an internal inquiry.

Though the state legislature met in special session June 12 to adopt budget policy implementation bills, Donovan recused himself from negotiations on those measures and stayed off the dais during the floor debate, emerging from a back room only to cast votes.

When Twardy’s investigation was announced, the Donovan campaign said it hoped it could be done within 15 days — a target that was passed a couple of weeks ago.

When asked Monday where that review stands, the speaker said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to talk to Stan.”

Any chance of getting a more precise answer Monday?

“You’d have to talk to Stan,” Donovan said.

Twardy could not be reached for comment immediately afterward, but the New Haven Register reported that Twardy had indicated it could be ready by Thursday.

When asked how Twardy would be compensated for that work, Donovan said: “We’ll talk to him about the price.”

How has campaign fundraising gone since the scandal broke?

“We’re compiling numbers. We don’t have the final results in.”

Donovan faces two Democrats in the Aug. 14 primary, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti, a public affairs consultant from Kent.

Will there be any debates between now and the primary?

“The campaigns have been talking about it,” Donovan said. “I’m always open to debates.”

What was the speaker certain about Monday: “I’m the only one who’s really fought for the people in this race.”