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Friday, August 28, 2009

Jeff Smith Campaign Documentary Makes for An Interesting Post-Mortem, Particularly in the Case of the Dead Campaign Worker Caught Up in Smith's Crime

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge smith_go_to_washington.jpg
Somebody told Daily RFT there was a striking moment in Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? when an independent campaign consultant talked about what a nice, smart, capable guy Jeff Smith is -- but that to win in politics the then-29-year-old needed to get more cutthroat.

We couldn't find said commentary in the documentary made about Smith's 2004 Congressional race. But in light of Smith's guilty plea to two serious corruption charges stemming from that very campaign, practically every third moment in the 80-minute flick seems pretty poignant today.

From his mother's statements about the "awful things" that go in politics and her reluctance to have a son getting into the game, to the "I knew it was going to be this massive grind for credibility at the beginning" comment from Smith campaign helper and former state representative Steve Brown (who went down with his friend this week), to Smith's tearful "I'm so sorry" at the movie's close, the short film may attract even more of an audience now as a reminder of what-could-have-been (for Democrats, anyway). 

Interestingly, you get to see Smith and his bushy-tailed campaign staff gleefully seize on the discovery of their opponent Russ Carnahan's voting record in the state capitol. One of the ways they decided to use that info would ultimately become the downfall of Smith, Brown and the young campaign treasurer Nick Adams.

Most chilling perhaps may be the repeated appearances by Artie Harris. Harris, a New Yorker who graduated from Columbia University, was a 24-year-old campaign newbie when he joined the Smith team as communications director.

According to documents released by federal prosecutors, Harris lied to the Federal Election Commission about his involvement in the production of the anti-Carnahan campaign flier during an interview with the FEC on March 1, 2007.

Two months later, on May 4, 2007, Harris committed suicide.

During the FBI's investigation of Smith this summer, according to court records, Smith tried to cover-up his role in the flier by blaming Harris. "Can you just put it on Artie? If you can just put it on Artie..." said Smith to Brown in discussing what Brown would tell federal agents.

At another meeting with Brown and Adams, Smith said, "Artie would totally want us to throw him under the bus here."

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, Harris certainly had a colorful personality that comes alive in the film.

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