Facing increasingly sharp attacks from his Democratic primary opponents, the congressional campaign of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan addresses the arrests of two top campaign aides in a television commercial for the first time.
“You’ve seen the attacks,” Donovan says, staring into the camera. “I want you to hear directly from me.”
The commercial now airing is the campaign’s first use of paid media to address the arrests of Donovan’s former campaign manager and chief fundraiser, which are featured in a commercial and mailing by his two opponents.
“What my former campaign employees are accused of is everything wrong with politics,” Donovan says. “That’s why I immediately fired them and asked a former Republican U.S. attorney to conduct an independent investigation.”
As he speaks, the screen cuts to a Hartford Courant front-page with the headline: “Independent probe clears Donovan.” It refers to an investigation by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, which was commissioned by his campaign.
“The truth is no one in Connecticut has worked harder than me to clean up elections. I’m Chris Donovan. I’m proud to be endorsed by the Democratic Party,” he says. “In Congress, I’ll fight for seniors and working families, just like I have my whole life.”
The commercial comes less than two weeks before the three-way 5th Congressional District Democratic primary on Aug. 14 with former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and Dan Roberti of Kent.
It is a stripped-down spot. Donovan is in his shirtsleeves, sitting on the front steps of a neighbor’s house in Meriden. Two small American flags stuck in a planter move in a slight breeze.
The commercial is similar in tone to his previous ad: Donovan speaks directly to Democrats. His first ad was an unabashed appeal to liberal primary voters.
Both spots rely on Donovan’s credibility on camera. Over the two commercials, voters basically are asked to look him in the eye for 60 seconds and judge his character.
“Chris is a convincing messenger,” said his new campaign manager, Tom Swan. “It is a reason why so many groups have endorsed him.”
Both ads refer to a lifetime of political activism — a reminder to hardcore Democratic activists so crucial in primaries, and an introduction to regular Democrats who turn out in primaries but are not as familiar with Hartford politics.
“These days, some people are afraid to be called liberal or progressive,” Donovan said in the first ad.
It described him as an activist willing to fight for “clean elections” — as a leader in the House, Donovan’s support was crucial to the passage of the state’s public financing of campaigns — and the rights of labor.
“Here I am. Here’s what I am for. This is me,” Donovan said, summarizing his first ad. “And I got a great reaction to it.”
Donovan’s campaign has sufficient cash to air the spot, but not enough to buy saturation exposure for the final weeks, when he is competing against news stories and editorials about the damage to his campaign by the scandal.
Roberti is airing a commercial that uses a look-alike actor to portray Donovan as accepting an envelope with cash in an alley.
Federal prosecutors allege a conspiracy by Donovan’s two former campaign aides, smoke shop owners and others to use $27,500 in contributions to influence Donovan to stop a bill to impose fees on the roll-your-own cigarette business.
His chief fundraiser, Robert Braddock Jr., was arrested at the end of May. His campaign manager, Joshua Nassi, was one of six others named in an indictment unsealed last week.
Donovan fired both men and another campaign staffer after Braddock’s arrest.
Donovan is not accused of participating or being aware of the conspiracy, but the recent indictment described Nassi as exchanging emails with a legislative aide to check on the status of the bill.
In the new commercial, Donovan makes no attempt go into details of the FBI investigation into campaign fundraising, a task ill-suited to a 30-second ad.
But Donovan also is hewing to a line his campaign drew immediately after the first arrest at the end of May: He will not comment on specifics of the investigation, nor will he answer questions about the emails or the degree to which the tobacco legislation was a personal priority in the session’s final days.
The bill was a Senate bill that never came to the House before the regular session ended in May. It was passed in special session.
“The main thing is I wasn’t involved,” Donovan said in an interview this week before the release of the ad. “That’s pretty much it.”