Speculation surrounds Sen. Jeff Smith


The political world in St. Louis and Jefferson City is abuzz over state Sen. Jeff Smith’s political future — and what may or may not be happening to the St. Louis Democrat, who is the only Jewish Missouri senator currently in office.

Although a deluge of reports from activists and officials in both parties has Smith resigning for various alleged reasons, the most serious of which is an alleged federal probe stemming from his unsuccessful 2004 bid for Congress, Smith had no press conference or public announcements scheduled for Tuesday, his administrative assistant Christine Brauner told the St. Louis Jewish Light Tuesday morning.


“He is being urged by both state Democrats and Republicans not to make any hasty decisions,” said Brauner, adding that Smith had sought legal advice.

The alleged federal probe into Smith also apparently involves state Rep. Steve Brown, D-Clayton, a close ally of Smith’s and a key player in his 2004 Congress campaign.

Much of the more serious speculation swirls around a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by now-U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan’s campaign after the 2004 congressional election, which Smith narrowly lost. Carnahan’s complaint had dealt with joint campaign activity by Smith and then-fellow candidate Joan Barry, a former state legislator from south St. Louis. The three were among 10 Democrats who sought the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, who earlier that year dropped his bid for the White House.

However, a spokeswoman with the FEC said that the complaint had been resolved in 2007, with an official notice coming out a year ago.

At the time of Smith’s 2004 campaign, Brown served as assistant attorney general under then-Attorney General Jay Nixon. Brown worked in Nixon’s St. Louis office.

Both Smith and Brown, who also is Jewish, are graduates of Ladue Horton Watkins High School. Brown did not hold an official post in Smith’s congressional campaign but he did serve as campaign treasurer in Smith’s state Senate contest in 2006, although that is not part of the alleged probe.

Missouri sources in both parties say, however, that a problem may have arisen over what Smith did or did not tell a federal investigator in connection with that 2004 case.

The dispute before the FEC centered on disparaging campaign literature distributed by Barry and Smith at a joint press conference before the August 2004 Democratic primary, in which both questioned Carnahan’s voting and attendance record while a state legislator. Carnahan’s campaign, in essence, accused the two rivals of failing to report their expenses for the fliers and postcards.

Investigators eventually determined that the postcards were linked to Milton Ohlsen III, a sometime political operative who recently pleaded guilty in federal court on unrelated fraud and firearms charges. Ohlsen oversaw the independent operation, called Voters for Truth, that the FEC determined was responsible for sending out thousands of postcards to residents in the 3rd congressional district disparaging Carnahan.

In the public portions of the final reports by the FEC laying out its investigation and findings, Brown is referred to in a footnote that states: “Ohlsen also claimed that an individual named Steve Brown was responsible for soliciting funds” on behalf of Ohlsen’s entity, Voters for Truth.

But there is no verification of Ohlsen’s assertion. Brown also held no official post in Smith’s 2004 congressional campaign, so his involvement with Ohlsen would not be enough in itself to prove a direct tie with the Smith campaign. Brown has not returned calls seeking comment.

Since Smith won his bid for the state Senate in 2006, he has quickly become a major player among the Democratic minority. Last session, he received much of the credit for preserving the state’s historic tax credit program that has helped spawned redevelopment in the city of St. Louis. The Jewish Light honored him, along with Brown and Missouri’s four other Jewish legislators, at the paper’s annual meeting in June.

This story was reprinted with permission from the St. Louis Beacon with additional reporting added by the Jewish Light. Visit the Beacon online at www.stlbeacon.org.