Former speaker’s conduct questioned

Less than a year after a campaign finance scandal sunk his bid for a seat in Congress, former State Representative and State House Speaker Christopher Donovan has once again found himself in hot water.

Documents recently made public by legislative officials show an ongoing investigation by the FBI into Donovan’s relationship with Mark Masselli, a major contributor to Donovan’s congressional campaign. Masselli also runs a chain of nonprofit health clinics, Community Health Center Inc., that was appropriated $15 million in state funds in the waning hours of the 2012 legislative session. The investigation suggests federal authorities suspect Donovan of improperly intervening in the state’s bond allocation process on behalf of CHC. As of yet, Donovan has not been charged with any crime and has publicly denied all wrongdoing.

In lieu of commenting, Masselli has hired public relations consultant Andrea Obston, who in a statement emphasized the state’s long history of supporting free health clinics, which it established in the 1960s.

“The state of Connecticut has used bond funds for many years to support the work of Connecticut’s health centers and other nonprofit health and social service organizations, which have limited options for financing capital projects,” Obston said.

Last October, the FBI issued subpoenas to the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Management, requiring that the office hand over all documents related to the bond package in the speaker’s office.

In the initial version of the bond package in early April 2012, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee set aside $20 million to distribute in a competitive grant process to 14 community health organizations across the state. But by the end of the legislative session on May 9, the funding had been increased to $30 million, with $15 million set aside for CHC and $15 million for the 13 other organizations.

How the change occurred is a question that remains unanswered. An examination of the minutes of the committee’s minutes between April and May 2012 provided no further clues. State Rep. Betty Boukus, who chairs the bonding committee, told CT Mirror that she could not remember having conversations, including any with Donovan, about dividing the funds into the two sets. Boukus said she told federal investigators the same thing.

Instead, Boukus emphasized the importance of the CHC’s work. Community health organizations provide healthcare for 300,000 residents across the state.

“I was just blown away by the work they do,” Boukus told the CT Mirror.

Despite the approval of the bond committee, the CHC is unlikely to see the $15 million. Once passed by the legislature, bond authorizations still need to be officially allocated by the State Bond Commission, which Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said the state has no plans to do.

Masselli founded CHC as a free clinic in 1972 with a group of Wesleyan students. Since then, it has expanded across the state, with revenues of $66 million.

The investigation into the health clinic bonding process follows a campaign finance scandal last spring during Donovan’s ill-fated attempt to fill now-Sen. Chris Murphy’s seat in the state’s fifth congressional district. Masselli assisted Donovan with fundraising and donated $6,300 to the campaign.

Donovan’s former campaign manager and finance director were accused by federal authorities of channeling $27,500 into Donovan’s campaign coffers from employees and owners of smoke shops. In exchange, the two agreed to put a stop to legislation that would levy hefty fees on roll-your-own tobacco businesses.

Four of those tied to the smoke shops have pleaded guilty, with charges pending for the rest of the eight charged. Donovan has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and no evidence is yet to surface showing he was aware of the agreement.

According to Andrew Doba, communications director for Gov. Dannel Malloy, the governor’s office has not been asked to provide any information to federal investigators, although he expressed the office’s willingness to provide the investigators and the public with information on bond allocations for CHC.

Masselli was paid $363,703 in 2010 and $629,073 in 2011 by CHC.

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