The circumstances surrounding Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich’s (R) sudden death last week remained a mystery even as the state’s political establishment prepared to pay its respects today to the man who was the GOP’s leading gubernatorial candidate.
Schweich died Thursday of an apparent suicide, just minutes after arranging a meeting with reporters to go public with allegations that the state Republican Party’s top official had been spreading misinformation about his religion.
Even St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page Tony Messenger, who was one of the last people Schweich called before his death and who had built a rapport with the auditor over the years, wrote that he had no idea what drove him to commit suicide.
One thing is for sure: Schweich was convinced that there were anti-Semitic remarks being made about him with the aim of derailing his gubernatorial campaign, and the Post-Dispatch revealed even more thorny aspects of the Republican primary race over the weekend.
Here are five of the ugly political currents that were swirling beneath the surface of the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary prior to Schweich’s death.
An alleged anti-Semitic “whisper campaign”
Immediately after news of Schweich’s death broke, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the auditor had arranged an interview with one of its reporters later that day to discuss an anti-Semitic “whisper campaign” he believed the state GOP chairman was waging against his gubernatorial campaign.
Over the course of several days, Schweich had confided in Post-Dispatch editorial page editor Tony Messenger that he believed state GOP Chairman John Hancock had off-handedly told people that he was Jewish. Schweich was Episcopalian, although he had a grandfather who was Jewish. Schweich had planned to go public with those allegations in the interview with the Post-Dispatch as well as the Associated Press.
Hancock has since denied making any anti-Semitic remarks about Schweich, although he acknowledged that he may have told someone off-hand that Schweich was Jewish.
An attack ad comparing Schweich to Barney Fife
The week before his suicide, a political action committee called Citizens for Fairness in Missouri went up with an attack ad blasting Schweich as weak and corrupt.
“Is he a weak candidate for governor? Absolutely. Just look at him,” the “House Of Cards”-style narrator said in the radio ad. “He can be easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry.”
That was a reference to Barney Fife, the bumbling sidekick to Sheriff Andy Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show.” The ad went on to tie Schweich to President Barack Obama and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
The narrator concluded by saying that Democrats in Washington would “squash [Schweich] like the little bug that he is” with their nominee if he were to win the Republican nomination.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that up until Feb. 16, the PAC’s deputy treasurer was James C. Thomas III, who is also the campaign treasurer for Schweich’s primary rival Catherine Hanaway. The PAC’s current treasurer is Seth Shumaker.
Lies spread about Schweich on social media
Schweich had referred to harassment from Shumaker in a January speech announcing his gubernatorial bid without mentioning him by name, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The auditor said that a “suspended lawyer” was spreading a “dizzying series of lies” about him on social media, according to the newspaper. Schweich’s office confirmed to the Post-Dispatch that he was referring to Shumaker in the speech.
Shumaker’s law license was suspended back in 2011 after he allegedly violated “rules of professional conduct.”
Pending Sunshine Law requests for Schweich’s files
Schweich was critical of public entities who violated Missouri’s Sunshine Law. A report issued by his office last fall stated that 15 percent of the audits it performed over the last two years had found some violation of the state’s government transparency law, according to the Associated Press.
The Post-Dispatch reported that Shumaker had turned the tables on Schweich and filed six Sunshine Law requests for the auditor’s emails, daily schedule and his staff’s travel and expense records.
Rancor over deep-pocketed donors
Schweich prided himself on running against corruption in government and lashed out at the state’s top political donor in a speech announcing his gubernatorial bid.
The auditor lambasted Rex Sinquefield, a retired executive and philanthropist, for donating $1 million to his primary opponent. He called former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway “bought and paid for” by Sinquefield, since the donation financed 70 percent of the money she had raised at the time, according to St. Louis Public Radio.
Schweich himself had pledged to accept no more than 25 percent of his yearly campaign contributions from any single donor.