Two state lawmakers have resigned after admitting to their involvement in a smear campaign against St. Louis Congressman Russ Carnahan in the 2004 Democratic Congressional primary.
Sen. Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis) and Rep. Steve Brown (D-St. Louis) both submitted letters of resignation to Gov. Nixon who wasted no time in calling for special elections on November 3rd to fill the two seats.
Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Smith admitted to obstructing a Federal Elections Commission investigation into allegations raised about the 2004 race. He also admitted to obstructing a federal grand jury investigation. Brown pleaded guilty to a charge that he helped obstruct an FEC investigation.
The case centers on the hotly contested race among Democrats to replace former United States House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Federal prosecutors built their case on evidence provided by former Democratic Party strategist Milton "Skip" Ohlsen III, who is in jail awaiting sentencing on unrelated felony charges. Ohlsen told FEC investigators that Smith hired him through Brown to conduct an anonymous attack against Russ Carnahan
Smith initially denied the allegation until pleading guilty in federal court in St. Louis Tuesday. Brown volunteered in the Smith campaign. Smith’s campaign treasurer from the 2004 Congressional campaign, Nick Adams, is expected to plead guilty to similar charges.
Smith successfully ran for state Senate in the next election cycle after his narrow lost to Carnahan in the Congressional primary. Brown returned to work in then-Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office, where he served from 1998 to 2007. Brown left the office to successfully run for a seat in the Missouri House in 2008.
Gov. Nixon’s office released a statement in which Nixon said, "The charges to which these officials pleaded guilty are a violation of the public’s trust, and their resignations are both necessary and appropriate."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) issued a statement, saying, "Jeff has made some serious mistakes and will be held accountable for those mistakes, but that should not detract from his accomplishments in the Senate or his hard work on behalf of his community."
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota (D-Independence) says the news about his fellow House Democrat disappointed him.
"It looks as though Rep. Brown and Sen. Smith made some bad choices. They need to be accountable for that," LeVota told the Missourinet. "It’s just a sad thing when things like this happen. It puts a cloud over all of our government."
LeVota said Brown was seen as a rising star in the House Democratic Caucus.
"Very nice guy, very knowable of the law," LeVota said of Brown. "This violation that he did was five years before he was actually elected to office. But, still, you have to follow the rules and no one is above accountability."
Democrats feel confident they will retain the House seat, considered a safe district for the party.