Federal law enforcement agents visited the Legislative Office Building in October to examine the illegal intersection of legislating and campaign fundraising. What a dispiriting tale continues to unfold at the heart of state government.
In mid October, federal officials served subpoenas on the head of the Office of Legislative Management, the office that administers much of our bloated legislative bureaucracy. Those subpoenas requested documents pertaining to what several employees of the House Democratic caucus may have known about legislation to exempt "roll your own" tobacco shops from hefty cigarette manufacturing levies.
Outgoing Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan's congressional campaign imploded when the feds arrested a coven of schemers who allegedly were funneling illegal campaign contributions to him in the expectation that they were purchasing enough influence to thwart a tax increase on the roll your own shops. The FBI sting tested Donovan's campaign and the left wing campaign finance harpy was found wanting.
These investigations often go on and on as discovering the unseemly side of governing startles even the most world-weary agent or prosecutor. The sense grows that there is more corruption to be found under the next rock and the one over there, too. The people who run the General Assembly are giving the feds cause to keep looking.
When I file a request for documents from the legislature under the Freedom of Information Act, word reaches the offices of the four political caucuses before I can drive the 10 miles from my office to the LOB. Leaders of both parties are routinely notified of the most innocuous events. Republican House and Senate leaders were surprised that they were not told for weeks that the feds had visited "the building" and dropped subpoenas on the keeper of the records.
Worse, some leaders were not told that a lawyer was hired to handle the response to the subpoenas. How to respond was not discussed among all the leaders of the legislative branch. Instead, the target of the investigation — the House Democrats — were in on shaping a response from the start while others were excluded.
The people's business, and that's what it is, has been hijacked by interests in the legislature who have the most to hide, and their allies in the bureaucracy. OLM refuses to make the subpoenas available for public review. As of last week, it had not provided a copy of its retainer agreement with the attorney it hired in response to the corruption investigation.
Public servants are taking on the look of a criminal enterprise in their response to an investigation that they should want to assist not resist. If investigators want to interview lawyers who work in the non-partisan office that drafts legislation, let them. The public is not served by insiders raising hurdles in the path of investigation of corruption at the legislature.
How to respond to the federal investigation is a decision for the elected officials who serve on the Joint Committee on Legislative Management. They should have long ago met in public to set forth their intentions to cooperate or resist the federal inquiries. The public should not be shut out of this decision and neither should members of the legislature.
This investigation goes to the heart of the House Democratic office as constituted in the Donovan years. The Meriden Democrat's term ends next month and he will be gone from the legislature, a wounded figure, diminished by his own folly. Many of his people will also depart, but not everyone who had a hand in the fatal tobacco legislation will leave. Some who knew of the scheme — or should have been more inquisitive — remain.
For the recipient of the subpoenas, Jim Tracy, the executive director of the Office of Legislative Management, to have consulted with the House Democrats about responding to them but not other legislative leaders requires a full public inquiry and explanation. This is secrecy taken to a poisonous end. It is not possible that this conspiracy could have served the public or the legitimate interests of the legislature. Instead, it is insiders distorting their public trust for their narrow purposes. Let the power of sunshine disinfect the stench.