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Despite scandal, unions stand with Conn.'s Donovan

By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / August 5, 2012
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HARTFORD, Conn.—A corruption scandal dogging the congressional campaign of House Speaker Chris Donovan is not deterring his most devoted supporters, who have continued to support the veteran Democrat they see as a warrior for liberal causes.

Whether it's the Service Employees International Union or the liberal activist group MoveOn.org, Donovan's political base is standing by the Meriden legislator by contributing money, organizing volunteers, leafleting workplaces and making phone calls to members, urging them to vote in the hotly contested Aug. 14 primary.

Last month, weeks after Donovan's former campaign finance director Robert Braddock Jr. was arrested in connection with an alleged conspiracy to hide the source of political contributions, Donovan appeared to keep pace with his Democratic primary challengers. He raised a total $77,760 from July 1-25, while former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty amassed $89,937. Daniel Roberti, a public affairs representative, raised $21,445.

An Associated Press review of $26,171 in contributions of at least $200 that were made to Donovan during June found that about one-third came from contributors who work for unions.

"Until and unless something comes out proving otherwise, he's our guy," said Daniel Mintz, national director of coordinated campaigns for MoveOn.org, which has about 15,000 members in the 5th District.

It remains to be seen whether that support base will be enough to help Donovan, the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate, fend off Esty and Roberti. Both challengers have greatly outspent Donovan during the hot primary battle. During the month of July, Esty's total operating expenditures were $638,211, while Roberti's totaled $509,013. In contrast, Donovan's campaign spent $271,247.

Both Roberti and Esty have been flooding voters with TV ads and mailers, some taking aim at Donovan and the scandal. A "super" political action committee, or super PAC, favoring Roberti has also been running TV commercials critical of both Donovan and Esty.

Jeb Fain, a spokesman for Esty's campaign, acknowledged Donovan's support from unions and progressive groups, which are known for getting people to the polls. But he said Esty has a strong get-out-the-vote operation, with six field organizers and a contingent of volunteers who've made more than 100,000 phone calls and knocked on thousands of doors.

"The speaker has a long history working with unions and progressive groups. Elizabeth certainly understands and respects their loyalty," he said. "But she has a strong progressive record and she's working hard to get every vote in the 5th, union members and non-union members."

Meanwhile, the campaign fundraising scandal recently widened when Donovan's former campaign manager and six others were arrested and charged with conspiracy, making false statements to FBI agents and causing false reports to be filed with the Federal Election Commission. They've all pleaded not guilty.

Donovan has not been directly implicated in the alleged scheme to buy influence over pending legislation before the General Assembly and to hide the source of $27,500 in contributions to his congressional campaign.

A former union organizer, he is well known for his support of issues such as universal health care, publicly funded political campaigns and increasing the minimum wage.

Some of Donovan's rivals in the congressional race have also called on him to step aside. Even though Donovan has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme, they've questioned why he didn't know what was happening within his campaign. Four Republicans are also in a primary battle, hoping to fill the seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who is running for the Senate.

"In a public-be-damned approach, Mr. Donovan has continued to promote himself as a viable candidate for a seat in the U.S. Congress. Seven indictments and a guilty plea hang over his damaged campaign," Roberti recently said. "It is time for him to face facts. He needs to get out of the race now, as remaining a candidate does a disservice to the voters and to the Democratic Party, which must keep this seat."

In its endorsement of Esty for the 5th District Democratic primary, the Hartford Courant suggested last week that Donovan "should do his party's cause a favor" and drop out of the race given the scandal. Another editorial accused Democrats and progressive interest groups of pretending that "if they shield their eyes, the scandal will go away."

Larry Dorman, spokesman for the union AFSCME Council 4, said there have been no discussions among AFSCME leaders to pull their support of Donovan. Both the state and national union have endorsed his candidacy. Dorman acknowledges organized labor has a special relationship with Donovan, and believes it is crucial to send a "pro-worker" candidate to Congress. They recently sent an email to their members in the 5th District, pointing out how Donovan's first TV ad focuses on how he's proud to be progressive and pro-labor.

"If we didn't believe fully in Chris, in what he stands for, it's safe to say that the game would be different," Dorman said of labor's continued support for Donovan. "You stand by your friends."

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Associated Press Writer John Christoffersen in New Haven contributed to this report.

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