Opinion: Labor’s loyalty keeps top Democrats from pushing Donovan out of 5th District race
The Connecticut AFL-CIO 9th Biennial Political Convention in Hartford. Left to right: CT AFL-CIO President John Olsen, 5th District congressional Democratic primary candidates Chris Donovan, Elizabeth Esty, and Dan Roberti. (New Haven Register Photo/Mara Lavitt)
By Matt DeRienzo, Staff Reporter
Connecticut’s 5th District Congress seat is slipping away from Democrats, and prominent leaders of the party are unlikely to do anything publicly to stop it from happening.
The indictment of former campaign finance director Robert Braddock Jr. paints a damning picture of Speaker of the House Chris Donovan. It hinted that there are more shoes to drop, including the possibility that the FBI arranged to have union activist Ray Soucy wear a wire to record a conversation with Donovan at the Democratic State Convention about accepting illegal contributions in exchange for killing a piece of legislation related to “roll your own” tobacco shops.
Even if Donovan is not personally implicated in this scandal, the FBI details extensive and brazenly illegal talk by his inner circle of “quid pro quo” action in the legislature in exchange for illegally funneled and reported campaign cash.
Braddock’s trial starts Sept. 5, just as the general election campaign in the 5th District starts heating up. Will reporters be covering Donovan’s press conferences about health care reform, or his appearances on the witness stand?
Meanwhile, the firing of his fundraising staff and the time and attention Donovan has devoted to the scandal have no doubt put him behind in the money race, despite an expected infusion from MoveOn.Org.
And the cost of an “independent investigation” Donovan launched in an effort to clear his name could be as high as a mind-boggling $250,000, according to the Hartford Courant. That’s one-quarter of the entire amount of money Donovan had raised as of the last reporting period, and 39 percent of his cash on hand at that time.
It could go down as a huge waste of money. The internal investigation conducted by former U.S. Attorney Stan Twardy benefited Donovan for about a week. The details of the Braddock indictment showed the limited scope of Twardy’s work. His main rationale for declaring that there was “no evidence” of Donovan wrongdoing was that there was no talk of illegal activity in thousands of campaign emails. The indictment quotes campaign staff urging “co-conspirators” not to talk openly about illegal stuff (or put it in email, obviously) because Donovan was being “followed around” by “men in black” waiting to catch him doing something wrong.
Primary rival Elizabeth Esty, backed by the national women’s group Emily’s List, has been a fundraising juggernaut, leading all seven candidates in the race with more than $1.5 million to date.
So why aren’t prominent Democrats such as Gov. Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen publicly calling on Donovan to quit the race, or stepping up to endorse Esty?
Malloy and other members of the Democratic establishment didn’t hesitate to pick sides in the U.S. Senate primary, backing 5th District Congressman Chris Murphy over former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, and calling on her to step aside “for party unity.”
Statements by Malloy and Jepsen in the wake of Braddock’s arrest were more harsh toward Donovan than most of what was being said by Republicans at the time.
Malloy and Jepsen have friendly connections to Esty and/or her husband, Dan, Malloy’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection commissioner.
Why aren’t they and other prominent Democrats pushing Donovan out, or publicly endorsing Esty, in order to salvage the 5th District seat?
The answer lies in Chris Donovan’s fervent and lock-solid support from Connecticut’s labor unions, which has shown no signs of cracking as the campaign finance scandal has unfolded.
Donovan, a career labor union organizer and one of the biggest champions labor has ever had in state government, is “their guy,” figuratively and literally.
Put a knife in Chris Donovan’s back, and you’re doing the same to Connecticut’s unions.
Malloy, Jepsen and every other Democrat who aspires to stay in office or move up to a higher one needs labor’s support, or at the least, can’t afford to be its enemy.
Labor’s intense loyalty to Chris Donovan will keep him in the race and likely win him the Democratic primary. Democratic leaders’ reliance on labor will keep them from standing in his way, even if it means losing the 5th District seat to Republicans this November.