HARTFORD â€” A growing campaign finance scandal surrounding the State House speaker and Congressional candidate Christopher G. Donovan is threatening his career as one of the most powerful people in Connecticut government and Democratic control of one of the stateâ€™s five seats in the United States House.
The former campaign manager and the former finance director for Mr. Donovanâ€™s race for the Fifth Congressional District were among seven people charged in a federal indictment unsealed on Thursday in connection with the continuing investigation of Mr. Donovanâ€™s campaign fund-raising.
The seven men, including a former union official, were charged with conspiracy and other federal offenses related to a scheme to illegally contribute to Mr. Donovanâ€™s Congressional campaign in an effort to influence his role on pending legislation that would have added taxes to roll-your-own tobacco businesses.
The United States attorneyâ€™s office also announced that Ray Soucy, 60, a former corrections officer and union official, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to his role in the scheme. He has been cooperating with investigators.
Mr. Donovan has not been charged. And in a statement he read at the Capitol on Thursday, he denied any wrongdoing.
â€œI expected sooner or later there would be developments in this ongoing investigation,â€ he said. â€œWhat I didnâ€™t expect, what Iâ€™m practically speechless about, is that in spite of my hard-earned reputation for honesty and my career working for campaign finance reform, there are people who thought they could buy my vote. Thatâ€™s everything thatâ€™s wrong about politics and everything Iâ€™ve spent my life fighting against.
â€œMy vote is not for sale, and it never has been.â€
He left without taking any questions.
Identified in the indictment as Public Official No. 1, Mr. Donovan is frequently cited as the subject of ardent lobbying while money was being covertly funneled to people working for his campaign, although no explicit connection is made between the money paid to his associates and his actions.
The investigation leaves Mr. Donovan and the stateâ€™s Democrats in an excruciating bind, with the partyâ€™s Aug. 14 primary election drawing near.
Mr. Donovan had been a heavy favorite in the partyâ€™s three-way primary for the seat held by RepresentativeÂ Christopher Murphy, a Democrat, who is running for the Senate. Now the party is faced with the choice between a badly damaged candidate and two lesser-known candidates: Elizabeth Esty, a former state representative, and Dan Roberti, a public relations executive. Four candidates are vying for the Republican nomination.
Some in the party worry that if Mr. Donovan is the nominee, his problems could be used against other Democrats in a state where they control all the Congressional seats, all state offices and both houses of the General Assembly. Connecticutâ€™s Senate seats are held by Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent who is retiring.
Among those charged were Robert Braddock Jr., 33, of Meriden, Mr. Donovanâ€™s former campaign finance director; Joshua Nassi, 34, of Fairfield, his former campaign manager; and three owners or employees of businesses that allow customers to buy tobacco and roll their own cigarettes.
The indictment says that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to direct $27,500 in â€œconduit campaign contributionsâ€ â€” contributions that conceal the identity of the real donors â€” to influence legislation before the State House.
Customers do not pay a tax on cigarette purchases at shops where customers roll their own cigarettes using machines. The indictment says that some smoke shop operators became concerned that the legislature, during its 2012 session, would impose taxes on the businesses. It says they began making payments to Mr. Donovanâ€™s aides with the understanding that such contributions would buy them protection against the legislation.
â€œSo everybody understands,â€ the indictment quotes Mr. Soucy as saying, â€œpolitics is about the Benjamins.â€