COLUMN

Influence Peddlers In Season At Legislature

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Former Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan made a bizarre appearance at the federal courthouse in New Haven on Tuesday as a jury deliberated the fate Robert Braddock, the finance director of Donovan's disastrous 2012 congressional campaign. Donovan used the inappropriate opportunity to announce to the press that he never sold his vote in the campaign finance scandal that saw Braddock convicted later in the day.

Donovan's fate is a cautionary tale for state legislators facing influence peddlers as the General Assembly session nears its end.

Donovan, who should want to stay far from federal law enforcement authorities, proclaimed his innocence in the scandal that laid waste to his career. He insisted he never sold his vote for campaign contributions, though the evidence was not as clear as Donovan proclaimed. In fact, it looked like he had exchanged killing a bill for campaign contributions.

Investigators caught Donovan on video telling Harry Raymond Soucy that he, Donovan, had taken care of Soucy. It appeared to be a reference to killing a proposal to tax roll-your-own tobacco shops. Soucy at the time was raising thousands for Donovan's campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 5th Congressional District. Even Donovan had to admit that his part in the video looked bad. It's just the way we talk, he insisted. Pay no attention to my words was his final, hapless argument.

This is the season of people like Soucy in state government. As contemptuous as politicians have been of the former corrections union official since he got into trouble a year ago, Soucy seemed to enjoy easy access to a lot of influential officials before the deluge of trouble. There are plenty of others like him wheedling their way onto the legislature's agenda as it heads to a June 5 adjournment.

This is the time of maximum danger for the common good each year. The public is shut out of the legislative process. Insiders like Soucy thrive. Legislators, for the only time during the year, spend a lot of time together.

Daily sessions last from late in the morning into the middle of the night. People grow tired. Sensible reservations are worn away.

Enemies of the public's right to access to information on the people's business use this time for their unceasing attacks. We saw that this week when The Courant revealed the Malloy administration, some legislators and the chief state's attorney are conspiring to hide details of the December tragedy in Newtown that would otherwise be made public.

It's the time when state agencies will seek to obliterate traditional safeguards such as competitive bidding. Some will seek to give their friends immunity from traditional notions of responsibility. Thwarting them requires constant vigilance.

This year, the febrile end of the legislative session includes attempts to cobble together a two-year state budget. These efforts have been hindered by the failure of the state's (and nation's economy) to rouse itself out of four years of slow growth as we enter out fifth elusive summer of recovery.

Connecticut's economy remains particularly vexing as it lags behind even pokey national trends. Economic growth fell far short of administration estimates in its first two years. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo reported last month that personal income grew at a dismal 2 percent in 2012, landing the state in 49th place.

A sclerotic state economy, with only corporate welfare plentiful for the connected, leaves the legislature baying for money. This makes it susceptible to tawdry schemes with dubious estimates of more cash flowing into state coffers.

One plan, backed by the worrisome duo of lobbyist and former legislator William DiBella and his errand boy, state Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, would require some retailers to use software from a company DiBella represents that purports to send sales tax revenues from businesses to the state much quicker than rules now require.

This screams for caution, as adding to the burdens of state businesses is no way to get the economy growing. The legislature rarely considers or understands those consequences. It's often in an unseemly rush to satisfy narrow interests, which is why Donovan's humiliation reminds legislators of the price of sordid conspiracies against the public interest.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

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