Missouri political consultant Jeff Roe said Wednesday that he personally paid for a controversial anti-Tom Schweich radio ad. The former state auditor had said the spot angered him in the final days of his life.
In his first interview on the issue, Roe said the ad, with its “House of Cards” theme, cost $8,300 to produce and air during Rush Limbaugh’s show on Missouri radio stations, including KMBZ in Kansas City. The expenditures, by the Roe-connected group, Citizens for Fairness in Missouri, were to be detailed in state campaign reports filed by Wednesday night’s deadline.
“Is he a weak candidate for governor?” the radio ad’s narrator intoned. “Absolutely, just look at him. He could be easily confused for the deputy sheriff of Mayberry. But, more importantly, he can be manipulated.”
Roe, who heads the Kansas City-based Axiom Strategies political consulting firm, said the Republican candidate for governor he was working for, Catherine Hanaway, “knew nothing” about the ad before Roe placed it and only heard it on the air.
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“She had a very aggressive conversation with me afterwards about my participation in the race and what it would look like if I wanted to stay involved going forward,” Roe told The Buzz.
Hanaway has retained Axiom to run her campaign. Roe said he will have little, if any, involvement with it because he is running Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
The ad ran for two days shortly before the Missouri Republican Party’s annual Lincoln Days gathering, which this year was in Kansas City. The ad and its tone had some party members buzzing just days before Schweich took his own life on Feb. 26.
Clayton police investigating Schweich’s death said Tuesday that Schweich had talked for years about killing himself. That was long before the radio ad and a supposed anti-Semitic “whispering campaign” aimed at Schweich that friends of the former auditor said frustrated him during his final weeks.
Roe said he was saddened by Schweich’s passing. He said any sense that he and the one-time auditor were engaged in any feud was inaccurate. Schweich, Roe said, tried to hire Roe before his 2014 re-election campaign as auditor, and the two had been to dinner before to discuss business and politics.
Rather, Roe said he viewed the radio spot as something that was part of the regular give-and-take of a campaign. Schweich, he said, had been aggressive toward Hanaway as the GOP primary race began.
“He came out with his gloves on swinging,” Roe said.
Schweich had referred to Hanaway as “Catherine layaway,” he said, a reference to the more than $1 million Hanaway has received from mega-Republican donor Rex Sinquefield.
The ad, Roe said, was an attempt to change the conversation.
He described the “House of Cards” ad as political satire that would have been readily obvious to political insiders who watch the Netflix series.
Roe also defended his reference to Schweich in the radio ad as resembling Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy sheriff on the “Andy Griffith Show.”
“His resemblance to Barney Fife had been characterized in Missouri newspapers,” Roe said. “He made fun of himself on the stump. It was a parody.”
Roe said it was not unusual that he would spend personal money on a political ad. In fact, he’s made it a practice to give to most of his candidates with donations totaling tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.
But, he added, he won’t be continuing the practice in the 2016 race for governor.
“As the campaign season takes off, I will no longer be making individual contributions to the governor’s race, either indirectly or directly,” Roe said in a statement. “I will, however, continue to work tirelessly to promote my candidates’ issues and priorities, trusting the discernment of the people of Missouri.”
Former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth, a Republican, cited the ad and referenced Roe, though not by name, in his eulogy of Schweich. In fact, Danforth referred to Roe as a bully.
Roe declined comment on the label and said he would not have run the ad if he had known of Schweich’s mental struggles. He said he couldn’t believe that Schweich would be a candidate for statewide office under the circumstances the auditor found himself in.
Referring to Schweich’s death and that of his former spokesman, Spence Jackson, also by suicide, Roe said, “This is an awful situation for everyone involved.”
The consultant acknowledged that the passing of Schweich and Jackson had caused him to reflect on his work, though he insisted that he would continue to be aggressive.
“It’s important to take note of the tragedies and still be guided by the principles of the campaign,” Roe said.
“There’s no way that anyone could ever go through and be a part of the political landscape and not be impacted by the tragedies that have happened the last two months,” he said. “It’s sad. It was never expected. It’s an awful time.
“I don’t think any human is able to process all that without it having an impact.”
He insisted that Hanaway’s campaign had not been hurt by the tragedies and his ties to her campaign.