5 Things We Learned About the Suicide of Tom Schweich
A billionaire holds an insane amount of power in Missouri politics
A true rags-to-riches tale, Rex Sinquefield (pronounced Sing-field) was given over to a Catholic orphanage in north St. Louis by his widowed single mother and went on to cofound a global investment firm that now manages almost $400 billion. When he grew “bored” of making money in the mid-2000s, he returned to Missouri and embarked on a mission to use his vast wealth (he won’t say how much he’s worth) to transform his home state into a low-tax, small-government utopia. Consultants now speak of two distinct periods: Before Rex and After Rex. Sinquefield has poured nearly $40 million into campaigns, committees and ballot initiatives, making him easily the state’s largest donor. In the name of protecting limitless campaign contributions, he once threatened to create an armada of political action committees, 100 of them in all, and funnel the millions of dollars he would’ve given directly to candidates in smaller, legally permitted chunks. All of his giving, whether to candidates or causes, seeks to advance two issues: Eliminating income taxes at every level of government, and promoting school vouchers and other alternatives to the public education system. Schweich believed Sinquefield was “trying to take complete control over state government by any and all means.”
The influence of money in politics is out of control in Missouri
Six states have no limits on both individual and corporate contributions to candidates, but the Show-Me State is the only one that equally allows unlimited gifts from lobbyists and imposes no restraints on the revolving door between elected office and lobbying firms. Industry is so involved with policymaking that lobbyists have occasionally catered official committee meetings. And without a limit on gift-giving, lobbyists are free to pay for legislators’ meals at high-end steakhouses, treat them to rock concerts, squire them to WWE wrestling matches and baseball games, the Masters Golf Tournament and the Kentucky Derby. (By contrast, Iowa has a “cup of coffee” rule, barring legislators from accepting any gift valued at more than $3.)
Schweich’s suicide was spurred by more than mental health issues
In its final report on Schweich’s suicide, the Clayton Police Department found no evidence of a whisper campaign or any proof of anti-Semitism in Schweich’s records. The report instead painted Schweich as a mentally fragile man, and his wife Kathy told police that he had talked about suicide in the past. But Rolling Stone found that Schweich was obsessed with what he believed was an “insidious” effort to damage his name and undermine his campaign. The incidents, real or perceived, that preoccupied him at the time were well-known among his inner circle: That the chairman of the Missouri Republican Party had led an anti-Semitic “whisper campaign” against him; that Rex Sinquefield was bankrolling his opponents to scare him out of the governor’s race; that Jeff Roe, his party’s most powerful consultant — the man now running Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign — had crafted a vicious ad mocking Schweich’s appearance that aired on the eve of the largest Republican event of the year. Over the previous months, as the pressure mounted, his closest friends and advisers had urged him to brush it all off, to rise above the fray. Schweich, out of self-righteousness or anger or both, felt he couldn’t let the attacks against him go unanswered, an obsession that hounded him until he took his own life.