An independent investigator reported Thursday that he found no evidence that Democratic state House Speaker Christopher Donovan had any knowledge of, or made any deals regarding, contributions secretly funneled to his congressional campaign in exchange for killing tobacco-related legislation.
Former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, a Republican, who was retained by the Donovan campaign in June to conduct the review, also noted that several key figures in the scandal, including three former Donovan campaign staffers, refused to be interviewed.
Another key figure, state correction officer and former union official Ray Soucy, also was not interviewed. Though sources have identified Soucy as the unnamed co-conspirator alleged in an FBI affidavit to have arranged illegal campaign contributions, Twardy said the correction officer was not a campaign staffer, and therefore outside of the scope of his study.
“We found no evidence to indicate Donovan had any involvement in, or knowledge about the alleged conduit contributions or any quid pro quo arrangement regarding the RYO (Roll-Your-Own) or any other legislation,” Twardy, the managing partner at Day Pitney, wrote in his report.
Donovan’s campaign in the 5th Congressional District retained Twardy shortly after news broke May 31 that the FBI charged former campaign finance director Robert Braddock Jr. with illegally concealing the source of $20,000 in contributions. The donations allegedly were given in exchange for help in killing a bill that would have classified smoke shops with roll-your-own cigarette machines as cigarette manufacturers. This reclassification would force them to pay a $5,200 annual fee.
A bill approved by the state legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee did die on the Senate calendar when the regular 2012 session ended in early May. But the language was incorporated into a budget policy implementation bill enacted in special session on June 12.
Donovan fired Braddock, deputy campaign finance director Sara Waterfall and campaign manager Josh Nassi immediately after the scandal broke. The speaker also hired Tom Swan of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group to replace Nassi.
Twardy said all three fired staffers refused to be interviewed on the advice of counsel. The investigation also was blocked in one other attempted interview — state House Democratic Caucus attorney Laura Jordan, who also declined on the advice of counsel, Twardy said.
As an independent investigator, Twardy could not compel parties to participate in interviews. He also said no transcripts were prepared when Donovan and others were interviewed, though he would share his findings with federal investigators.
Donovan received frequent emails advising him of contributions made to his campaign, including reports of 79 donors who gave at least $2,500, the report says.
According to the FBI, the campaign tried to conceal $20,000 in contributions — eight donations of $2,500 each — that actually came from a business investor who tried to kill the cigarette manufacturer legislation. The investor was actually an FBI undercover agent.
The donations were made in two bundles of $10,000, one in April and another in May, after the annual legislative session ended with the tax bill dying from inaction on the Senate calendar.
But Twardy’s firm, which interviewed Donovan and 12 other campaign staffers and legislative aides, found the speaker “did not engage in conduit contributions based on what we’ve seen.”
If Donovan recognized the name of a donor, he would try to remember to extend thanks, Twardy said.
The investigation found Donovan did meet in the fall of 2011 with two individuals “whom he understood to own RYO smoke shops” at a breakfast arranged by Soucy, “who supported the campaign committee and who had known Donovan for a long period of time.”
That was the first time Donovan learned of the cigarette manufacturer issue and the speaker believes the two individuals he met for breakfast contributed to his campaign “but does not know for sure,” Twardy wrote.
The speaker also received several emails on April 25, May 9 and June 5 of this year at his legislative office from smoke shop owners concerning the tobacco legislation. “These emails appear to be form letters seeking Donovan’s help in opposition to the legislation” that would reclassify roll-your-own shops, the report adds. “There is no record that Donovan responded.”
Twardy’s firm also reviewed about 140,000 pages of email messages from Donovan and campaign staff, 25,000 pages from the speaker’s legislative office, 41,000 files from computers used by Braddock, Nassi, Waterfall, Donovan and legislative staff, Twardy said. Donovan’s iPhone and iPad also were examined.
And even though the scope of the review was limited primarily to the Donovan campaign and legislative staff, Twardy said he thinks the findings were thorough, particularly given the huge volume of communications that were reviewed.
Though he wouldn’t rule out that “there could be a hole” in his findings, “I think it’s highly unlikely that there’s anything out there.”
Swan said Thursday that this report “only validates what Chris has said before. … We did a more thorough and independent investigation than anyone could have expected.”
Swan said the campaign “absolutely did not” set perimeters on which campaign staffers Twardy and his colleagues could interview. “It was their call… He was hired to do an internal investigtaion,” he said.
Asked if the findings are complete without the key players interviewed and roll your own tobacco shop owners, Swan had no comment. “Why am I going to comment on a horse race,” he said.
Now that this independent audit is complete, Swan said he and Donovan look forward to moving on past the Aug. 14 primary.
“We are looking forward to the next phase of the campaign,” he said. “We have six weeks to win this election… Voters are aware of the real Chris.”
Donovan’s Democratic rivals in the 5th District, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire and public affairs consultant Dan Roberti of Kent, did not immediately respond to the report.
But Republican 5th District candidates Andrew Roraback and Mark Greenberg both noted the limitations of the Twardy report.
“The most important statement Stanley Twardy, Jr. made today about the scandal swirling around Chris Donovan’s campaign was, ‘There may be evidence out there that we don’t know of,'” said Roraback, a state senator from Goshen. “Whether subsequent legal proceedings in connection with the arrest of Donovan’s campaign finance director reveal that Donovan did or did not know of the alleged illegal activity, neither outcome will reflect well on Chris Donovan. If it is shown he knew of the activity, it makes him unfit as a candidate for Congress. If it is proven he had no knowledge of the alleged illegal activity, it calls into question the manner in which he is conducting his campaign and his abilities to give a kind of focused attention.”
“By Mr. Twardy’s own admission, his report is incomplete and it leaves many questions unanswered,” said Greenberg, who repeated his call for Donovan to suspend his campaign. “Much of the important relevant information was not forthcoming, and the investigation was hampered by the inability of Mr. Twardy to interview or receive documents from the principles in this scandal. People who commit crimes are not often reckless enough to leave a paper or email trail – the absence of such documentation is not surprising and accordingly, the “independent” investigation is certainly not conclusive.”
Twardy said Thursday that his firm hasn’t finished calculating how much Donovan’s campaign will be charged for the report, which involved the work of nine employees at the law firm.
The former U.S. Attorney, who serves on the board of directors for the Connecticut News Project Inc. — the parent organization for The Connecticut Mirror — added that he had no relationship with Donovan prior to his firm being retained. “I had no substantive conversations (with Donovan) before that,” he said.