Chris Donovan’s legislative spokesman headed to new job in Rhode Island
5th District Congressional Democratic candidate Chris Donovan addresses the media at Hubbard Park in Meriden. His wife Niki is in blue at left. Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
By Mary E. O’Leary, Staff Reporter
HARTFORD — Doug Whiting, spokesman for House Speaker Chris Donovan, is wrapping up his three and one-half year stint at the Capitol on Friday, and returning to the academic world where he has spent most of his career.
Whiting, 56, will be the vice president for communication at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where he will commute from his home in Fairfield, spending weekdays in the neighboring state and returning to Connecticut on the weekend.
“I’m pretty excited,” Whiting said Thursday of his new job that begins on Sept. 5.
Whiting came onboard in January 2009 as Donovan’s choice to head up the communications staff at the House.
Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, is expected to be speaker in January now that Donovan is leaving and will pick his own team at the Capitol.
Donovan was the Democratic Party’s convention choice to run for the 5th District congressional seat, but he was just defeated by former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire, in a tough three-way primary.
His campaign imploded following an FBI sting that saw eight people arrested, with one pleading guilty in an alleged scheme to hide the identity of $27,500 in donations to Donovan’s campaign. Whiting was not connected with the campaign.
Josh Nassi, Donovan’s chief of staff before becoming his campaign manager, was one of the eight arrested; Robert Braddock Jr., Donovan’s campaign finance officer, was another and the first charged by federal agents, who at some point conducted a sting operation into the alleged scheme.
Donovan has not been charged with anything and has denied any knowledge of the passing of conduit checks, which are donations signed by someone other than the true donor.
An independent investigation undertaken by former U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy found Donovan did not take contributions in exchange for killing legislation, but Twardy did not have access to those charged in the case.
The federal indictments said the case involved owners of roll-your-own smoke shops, and others, who wanted to get a bill killed that would have required them to obtain licenses as tobacco manufacturers and to charge taxes on the cigarettes. The bill was eventually approved in a special session of the General Assembly.
Whiting’s said his first political office was with Ted Kennedy’s short-lived campaign for president in 1980; he also worked in 1990 on U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s, D-Mass., re-election campaign.
Whiting came to the Capitol from Pace University where he was vice president for communications. Prior to that he held similar positions at Fairfield University and Boston College.
Senior staff in the House and Senate usually change when leadership changes.
Laura Jordan, who was special counsel to Donovan, has been taking vacation and compensatory time throughout the summer and remains on the staff, Whiting said.
Jordan has been identified by sources as “legislative aide 1″ in the indictments who was allegedly contacted by Nassi as he kept track of the roll-your-own legislation. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing and Sharkey, in comments to the Hartford Courant, said there is no evidence in the indictment that the roll-your-own legislation was compromised.
“What we have from the indictment is an allegation from the federal authorities that text communications took place between Josh Nassi and an aide,” Sharkey told the Courant. “Nothing in the indictment says that the next thing occurred — which is if there was communication that was done to affect that legislation. Nothing like that’s been alleged.”