Hostilities heat up between Boughton and Rowland prosecutor
The opening salvos of a bitter contest for governor that is still 19 months away are being fired by budding rivals, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Rowland prosecutor Chris Mattei.
It all started Tuesday when Mattei, the former head of the Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office for Connecticut, called on his competitors to sign a pledge refusing contributions from lobbyists.
But there would be no gentleman’s agreement between the Republican Boughton and Democrat Mattei, each of whom is exploring a run for governor.
Boughton responded Wednesday by saying he was only open to such an agreement under several conditions, but not before accusing Mattei of pulling punches against fellow Democrats when he was a prosecutor.
The three-time GOP gubernatorial hopeful cited the exoneration of former House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, in a pay-to-play scandal that sent two of his aides to prison. Boughton further criticized the lack of a criminal indictment against top Democrats for circumventing a state contractor fundraising ban, which resulted in a record-setting $325,000 fine against the party by state elections enforcement last year.
“The facts are there, remarkably, where the Democrats and Democratic Party wouldn’t get prosecuted,” Boughton said. “You have to ask the question, is that because he wanted to curry favor with certain groups and not get people upset?”
Mattei rejected the suggestion that he played favorites.
“During my time as chief public corruption prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, I took on individuals, regardless of party affiliation, who were violating the public trust,” Mattei said.
On Mattei’s watch, eight people were convicted in a pay-to-play scheme by tobacco shop owners to try to kill a proposed tax on roll-your-own cigarettes. Among them were the campaign manager and finance director of Donovan’s 2012 congressional campaign, both of whom served prison time. Donovan was cleared in the case, but it doomed the Democrat’s Washington prospects.
In 2015, Mattei helped send Thomaston Democrat David Bertnagel to prison for 30 months for embezzling $808,000 from the town of Plymouth, where he had been finance director.
Mattei’s career-defining case came in 2014, when he won a jury conviction against former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland for working as on off-the-books campaign operative for congressional hopeful Lisa Wilson-Foley.
In a letter to Mattei Wednesday, Boughton said he would refuse to accept lobbyist money if Mattei pledged not to raise taxes, to veto any unfunded mandates on localities, eliminate burdensome regulations and support law-abiding gun owners and the Second Amendment while in office.
Mattei suggested that Boughton was balking at the pledge because he had already accepted lobbyist contributions.
“If the mayor really wants to shake things up, he would refuse money from lobbyists,” Mattei said.
Boughton’s contributors include Michael Martone, a lobbyist from Wolcott and former political director for Rowland, who state election filings show gave $100 in December 2016 to the mayor. Former Danbury state Sen. David Cappiello, now a Newtown resident and lobbyist, also gave $100.
Boughton said that he has accepted fewer than half-a-dozen checks from lobbyists for his exploratory committee.
“Listen, I’d sign the pledge if he agrees to sign my pledge, and I’d refund the money,” Boughton said.
On Thursday, Tim Herbst, Trumbull’s first selectman and a GOP rival of Boughton, said he would not accept lobbyist money.
“I won’t dance around this issue with gimmicks or distractions,” Herbst said.
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