Democratic congressional candidate Josh Zeitz today questioned why his opponent, Rep. Chris Smith, donated $2,000 to outgoing Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ) less than a month after Renzi’s insurance business was raided by the FBI.
In February, Renzi pleaded not guilty to a 35 count indictment charging him with using his position to influence land deals. Reports of an investigation of Renzi surfaced in late 2006, and the case took on further controversy after its initiator, former Arizona U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton, was forced out of his position by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Zeitz Campaign Manager Steve D’Amico said that Smith must have been aware of the controversy surrounding Renzi, as he temporarily resigned his position on the House Intelligence Committee the next day.
“Why did Chris Smith feel it was important to give cash to an obviously corrupt Congressman? No other Member of Congress made such a show of solidarity,” D’Amico wrote in a press release today.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) did donate to Renzi four days after the raid, however.
Smith Campaign Manager Martin Gillespie characterized the charge as a "smear" and said that Smith and Renzi had a good relationship because Renzi was among a few House Republicans to demand full funding for veterans benefits back when the GOP controlled the House, which got both Renzi and Smith thrown off the veterans affairs committee (Smith had been chairman).
Gillespie pointed out that an article that mentioning Smith and Renzi's fight against the Republican leadership on veterans affairs is featured on Barack Obama's Web site.
And although it was well known that Renzi was under federal investigation, he was not indicted until almost one year later.
"Smith regarded Renzi to be a veterans champion," said Gillespie.
Zeitz, a former history professor who recently moved back to Bordentown, where he grew up, is running a long-shot race against Smith, the longest serving member of the New Jersey congressional delegation.
In August, 2007, Renzi announced that he would not seek another term.