This afternoon state Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, called for the creation of a special legislative inquiry panel to investigate the ongoing campaign finance scandal surrounding House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional bid.
It’s common for McKinney and GOP colleague House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, to hold joint press conferences on various issues.
So when they don’t make those joint appearances – as was the case today – it’s glaringly obvious something’s up, like perhaps the two are not seeing eye-to-eye.
The feds have been looking into whether Donovan received campaign contributions in exchange for promising to kill certain bills during the 2012 legislative session. So far the feds have arrested Donovan’s campaign finance director, his campaign manager and six others, but Donovan has maintained he knew nothing about the alleged conspiracy hatched in his name.
Cafero by phone just told me he only learned McKinney was holding a press conference on the Donovan scandal and related federal investigation Monday night while watching the new Batman film with his son.
“And I was in fact somewhat taken aback Senator McKinney had not invited me to attend or given me the heads up,” Cafero said.
Cafero said when additional details about the federal investigation emerged last week following the arrests of seven alleged accomplices, including Josh Nassi, Donovan’s ex-campaign manager and a former legislative staffer, Cafero asked his own staff to look into what if any authority the legislature has over such matters.
Cafero said they came up with more questions than answers. Since Donovan is a member of the House, does the responsibility for pursuing a legislative investigation fall only on that body? Can the legislature get involved in the Donovan matter when it remains unclear if the Speaker is a target of the federal probe and when Donovan has not been charged with or plead guilty to anything? Does the legislature have any authority to subpoena private citizens, including Nassi, who was a legislative staffer but not a legislator?
“So there’s a lot of questions that are raised by this whole thing that go even beyond the scope of this particular incident,” Cafero said.
Cafero and Donovan are known to have a close relationship and have spoken highly of one another. I asked Cafero what he would tell those who would accuse him of shielding Donovan from legislative scrutiny because of their friendship.
“I’ve been in this place long enough. What people want is not a lot of rhetoric but action, and whatever it is to be effective. If we just say let’s have a committee of inquiry and look into it, well, that’s great for a press conference and headline but it doesn’t get to the bottom of the problem,” Cafero said. “I want to be very clear as to what we’re proposing, what the powers of that committee are, so it’s not just for show. People are sick and tired of doing stuff for show.”
Cafero added, “I’m on the same page as Senator McKinney. And, by the way, friend or no friend, if someone has done something wrong they’ve got to be called on the carpet.”
“He hasn’t been arrested,” Cafero said of Donovan. “But boy if he is, friend or no friend, we’ve got to deal with it.”
It should be noted that the federal investigation of Donovan’s campaign has also embroiled three House GOP political action committees.
UPDATE: Here’s the press release Cafero’s office just issued on McKinney’s proposal:
House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, Jr. issued the following statement regarding today’s call by Senator McKinney for the formation of a committee of inquiry into allegations against House Speaker Christopher Donovan. He was notified last evening at 10:30 PM of the senator’s intention to call a press conference today. Unfortunately, due to business commitments, he was unable to be present.
“There can be no doubt that the allegations against members of House Speaker Christopher Donovan’s legislative and campaign staff, which have resulted in several federal arrests and indictments, cast a long shadow over the entire legislature. They raise questions that must be answered and the stakes are nothing less than the trust state residents have in the proceedings of the Connecticut General Assembly. In this respect, Senator McKinney and I are no doubt in agreement.
“Since the initial revelations surfaced on May 31st, I have sought to take a measured and deliberate approach to the questions raised by these allegations. I have insisted on following a path that resists taking partisan political jabs that could ultimately cheapen any action taken by this legislature. To me, the most important thing is that any action be grounded in fact, not innuendo or the allegations of criminal defendants under indictment.
“Prior to today’s press conference I initiated discussions with House Majority Leader Brendan J. Sharkey about the formation of a committee of inquiry, and have also asked my staff to research the rules involved in creating such a panel and prepare themselves should we decide to take such action. The State Constitution, under Article Three, clearly establishes that each house of the legislature will determine the rules of its proceedings involved in punishing one of its own members, and if an inquiry is to be called it ought be done by the House. We can also examine the possibility of creating a mechanism by which a member of the House can petition a bill to the floor, similar to the way it is currently conducted in committee, because any inquiry cannot successfully examine the conduct of its members without reviewing the process that allowed it to take place.
“The most important thing for us to remember is that a federal investigation into these matters is currently ongoing. 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.”