After lobbing political grenades attacking the ethics of his two more established congressional rivals, Dan Roberti got a strong taste of return fire Friday from the campaign of former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, the Democrat in the 5th District race with the most available cash.

Esty’s new television ad says that Roberti, a political newcomer whose father is Vincent Roberti, a Washington lobbyist and Democratic fundraiser, is heavily financed by special interests.

Roberti has largely escaped public scrutiny in a campaign dominated over the past two months by the FBI investigation of fundraising by the congressional campaign of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan.

Roberti and Esty have each used the investigation in ads, a television commercial in Roberti’s case and a mailing by Esty. And a TV commercial by a Super PAC backing Roberti attacks them both.

Esty’s ad hitting Roberti is an acknowledgement that anything is possible in a volatile three-way Democratic primary in which Donovan was heavily favored until the campaign finance scandal broke May 31.

Those possibilities, at least in the view of the Esty campaign, include an upset win by Roberti.

“I think folks don’t really know Dan Roberti,” said Jeb Fain, a spokesman for the Esty campaign. “They don’t know the truth about his own background and who is funding his campaign.”

The good news for Roberti is that he is being taken seriously as an opponent. The bad news is it is clear Roberti cannot continue to fly unscathed as he drops rhetorical bombs on Donovan and Esty.

“Washington’s a mess, and Dan Roberti would make it worse. Roberti has no work history in Connecticut,” a narrator says. “He’s the co-owner of a powerful special interest Washington lobbying firm. No wonder they are bankrolling Roberti’s campaign, funding a shadowy super PAC.”

Roberti issued a statement saying the ad is not true.

“Elizabeth Esty’s ad is everything people hate about politics because it’s not true and she knows it.  I’m not a lobbyist,” Roberti said. “I have never been a lobbyist. I’m different: I’ve spent my life helping run a homeless shelter, working on Hurricane Katrina relief and working on issues like poverty with Martin Luther King III. That’s not lobbying and she knows it. In fact, the lobbyist she’s attacking is my dad, not me, and I am not my father.”

Esty’s ad describes him as a co-owner of lobbying firm, not a lobbyist. Based on a financial disclosure form filed last year, Roberti is the beneficiary of a trust with a 50 percent interest in Roberti Associates Global, his father’s firm.

Mary Moran, a spokesman for the Roberti campaign, said Roberti was divesting himself of any interest in the firm, direct or indirect. He has yet to file an updated financial disclosure form for 2012.

In the reporting period that ended July 25, Esty had $857,550 in cash on hand, twice as much available as either Donovan or Roberti. She has since raised another $16,200, according to pre-primary reports.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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