Last Friday’s news conference at the state Capitol that featured a campaign manager declaring Speaker of the House Chris Donovan innocent of any wrong-doing in the on-going political scandal, used equipment and facilities provided by the Office of Legislative Management (OLM) in apparent violation of its own rules. The subject of the news conference was the very fluid scandal engulfing Donovan’s congressional bid. New campaign manager Tom Swan declared the Speaker innocent of any wrongdoing. Donovan himself made such a declaration Sunday night.
Violating its own policies as to the use of the legislature’s equipment in this case may seem trivial. However, OLM’s account(s) as to how this came to be is disturbing. OLM Executive Director D’Ann Mazzocca admits there was no formal request for the equipment and struggles to explain how the equipment (paid for by taxpayers) ended up being used for a blatantly political and campaign event.
OLM’s rules on use of facilities and equipment are clear. It states in part, “During the periods that the General Assembly is not in regular or special session, the Legislative Office Building and those areas of the Capitol Building under the supervision of the Joint Committee on Legislative Management may be made available to a public or private group or organization for the purpose of holding a meeting, provided that the purpose for using the facilities is not to further the candidacy of any individual running for public office or to raise funds. (Shad emphasis).
When I inquired about the situation, Mazzocca first emailed me saying CT-N, the outstanding network that covers the legislature, made the request for the podium, media box for audio and a microphone for the news conference. Problem is, a top CT-N official says no such request came from them.
Mazzocca checked with her people again and changed the story to say that there was no formal request for the equipment from CT-N or anyone else. She said people were calling the office asking about the event—she couldn’t say who called but she said emphatically it wasn’t anyone from the Speaker’s office or campaign (she doesn’t know who called but knows precisely who didn’t call?). She said the maintenance company Guardian inquired as to whether the equipment was being put out. “We said ‘no, there hasn’t been a formal request’ but we knew the event was happening,” Mazzocca said. “As the time [for the event] grew near, I made the decision to put the equipment out to help the press.” UPDATE: Both Donovan spokesman Gabe Rosenberg and then Swan himself contacted The Shad to reiterate that the equipment was all set up and ready to go when the Donovan campaign people arrived. He said they made no request to OLM whatsoever and have no idea how the equipment got there.
The whole thing doesn’t make sense. OLM has a detailed process through which people or groups must go through to use the legislature’s equipment. I know. I went through it many times and a few times I was told I asking too close to the event so it couldn’t be provided. Yet in this case, Mazzocca says the equipment was ready to go and she made the last-minute call to put it out—without a request from anyone. Curious. She made some reference to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly. I wasn’t questioning that although OLM’s rules say the request procedures apply to “…those areas of the Capitol under the supervision of the Joint Committee on Legislative Management.” That includes the Capitol grounds.
One can argue that political news conferences are held at the Capitol and Legislative Office Building all the time. That’s true. However, Friday’s event was held specifically to further the congressional campaign of Chris Donovan.
This isn’t a comment on Donovan’s campaign struggles (I happen to believe him when he says he knew nothing of the fundraising violations). The question remains as to how and why, in this hyper-political election season, OLM suddenly swapped its strict procedures for a casual, “Well nobody asked but we did it anyway…” approach. I know OLM in general and Mazzocca specifically to be professional, fair, competent and by-the-book. I don’t know what happened here. And the answers from OLM are not satisfying to say the least.