HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The majority leader of the Connecticut House of Representatives said Tuesday it would be premature for the legislature to investigate criminal allegations surrounding Democratic House Speaker Chris Donovan's congressional campaign.
Federal prosecutors are investigating the accusations involving campaign contributions to Donovan's campaign, and state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, is calling again for the legislature to form a bipartisan and bicameral committee to also investigate the matter, as well as any involvement members of Donovan's legislative staff might have had.
But the majority leader, Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the federal investigation has not suggested that the state legislative process has been compromised.
"If contrary information comes to light, I will call for appropriate measures to be taken within the state House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis," Sharkey said. "Until that time, Senator McKinney's proposal is, at best, premature. At worst, it is a partisan stunt."
McKinney called for a committee of inquiry on June 1 and again on Tuesday, less than a week after eight people, including Donovan's former campaign manager and former legislative aide, were arrested and accused of conspiring to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions. The contributions allegedly were tied to an effort to defeat state legislation to raise taxes on "roll-your-own" smoke shop owners.
McKinney said "new facts" in a recent indictment are alarming.
"They show that this alleged scheme of corruption went to the highest levels of the Speaker's office and thus the highest levels of our state government," he said. "We cannot ignore these facts anymore."
He noted that days before the 2012 legislative session was to adjourn, an unnamed aide in Donovan's office communicated by email with Joshua Nassi, Donovan's former campaign manager. Nassi, who used to work in Donovan's legislative office, was arrested last week on charges, including conspiracy, making false statements to FBI agents and causing false campaign finance reports. The aide and Nassi were allegedly discussing the status of the roll-your-own legislation.
McKinney said he was also concerned that a probe conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy, who was hired by Donovan to conduct an internal investigation after his former campaign finance director, Robert Braddock, was arrested, showed there was a list in Nassi's handwriting referencing seven pieces of legislation.
"We need to get to the bottom of when this started, who was involved, find out what those other six bills were and if there were more involved," McKinney said. "We need to find out who the legislative employee or employees are who were involved, what they knew, and when they knew it."
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Nowalk, acknowledged the arrests associated with the roll-your-own stores "cast a long shadow over the entire legislature." He said he has already spoken with Sharkey about forming a committee of inquiry and asked his staff to research the rules involved "should we decide to take such action."
Cafero said the state constitution makes it clear that each legislative chamber determines its own rules for such proceedings and, therefore, if an inquiry is to be called, it ought to be done by the House.
"The most important thing for us to remember is that a federal investigation into these matters is currently ongoing," Cafero said. "While there is a significant interest in the house for examining these issues, nothing we do should deter, distract, or interfere with the work of federal authorities currently working on this case."
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