John Steffen, who was indicted this week for bank fraud for a tax credit scheme during the collapse of his Pyramid Construction empire, has a long history as a national Democratic Party power broker. (Note: As they say on Cops, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.) Major recipients of Steffen’s largesse include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), four members of Missouri’s Carnahan political dynasty, committees funding the Democratic takeover of both houses of Congress in 2006, and President Barack Obama.
Steffen was particularly generous to Reid, whose state is over 1,500 miles away from Steffen’s St. Louis home. In addition to $4,000 in 2004 to the then minority leader’s 2004 reelection campaign, Steffen also donated $17,500 to Searchlight Leadership Fund (Reid’s Leadership PAC) and $15,000 to the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Steffen was a major financier of Democrats’ successful effort to reclaim control of Congress in 2006. In addition to his contributions to the Reid campaign and associated committees, Steffen donated over $83,000 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee between 2005 and 2008, another $16,000 in 2005-2007 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and generous direct contributions to the successful 2006 campaigns of Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ben Nelson (D-FL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) (plus over $2,000 to Missouri Victory 2006, which was linked to McCaskill) that were key to the party’s success in winning control.
Steffen was an early and generous supporter of President Barack Obama. In addition to donating the maximum legal $4,600 to Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007 (when the “smart money” was still behind then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)), Steffen donated $4,323 to Hopefund, Inc., which Politico reported in 2007 worked in concert with the Obama presidential campaign by contributing to key officials in early primary states, giving money in hopes of winning their support.
Other notable recipients of Steffen money include the 2004 presidential campaigns of both former Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and the Iowa Democratic Party in advance of Gephardt’s unsuccessful campaign in that state’s presidential primary.
In Missouri, Steffen was especially generous to the Carnahan Dynasty. He contributed a thousand dollars to the late Mel Carnahan’s 2000 senate campaign, $2,000 to the unsuccessful 2002 re-election campaign of former Sen. Jean Carnahan, $2,000 in 2003 to the successful 2004 congressional campaign of Rep. Russ Carnahan, and a like amount in 2005 to his 2006 re-election campaign. Robin Carnahan received $1,175 in 2003 for her 2004 campaign for Missouri Secretary of State, with like amounts from at least two corporate members of The Pyramid Group. All of those contributions represented the maximum legal amounts at the time they were made. Corporate contributions are legal for campaigns for state office, but not federal office.
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) received over $7,000 from Steffen in the form of maximum legal contributions for campaigns in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Steffen played both sides in the contentious 2004 Democratic gubernatorial primary, making maximum legal donations to incumbent Bob Holden in 2002 and to his conqueress, State Auditor Claire McCaskill, in 2004. Other notable Missouri recipients include Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), former State Treasurer Nancy Farmer’s unsuccessful 2004 senate campaign against Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), and former Secretary of State Bekki Cook’s unsuccessful campaign for Lieutenant Governor (against current Lieut. Gov. Peter Kinder). On the local level, key Steffen recipients included St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, and License Collector Mike McMillan.
Steffen made occasional Republican contributions, but even those usually displayed a Democrat twist. Steffen made a courtesy $1,000 contribution in 2005 to Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), who is married to Democrat power broker Ron Gladney. Steffen donated $2,000 to the late Sherman Parker’s 2006 Republican primary challenge to Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), fueling Democrat hopes of wounding the popular Akin. Not yet explained is Steffen’s surprising $10,000 donation to the Missouri Republican State Committee in 2005. I’m sure there’s a story there; I just don’t know what it is. Yet.
Steffen’s latest political donations ($28,500 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and $2,300 to Rep. Lacy Clay in 2008) were made when he was already in financial distress. Respected (and expensive) St. Louis bankruptcy attorney Steven Goldstein, whom Steffen engaged to negotiate settlements with Pyramid’s creditors, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Steffen has earned no income since 2008 and “likely can’t afford a criminal attorney for his fraud case.” Perhaps if the politicians would return the over $200,000 (conservatively speaking) he has given them in political contributions in the past decade, he could afford a lawyer. Otherwise, taxpayers left picking up the tab to defend this Democratic Party financier.
Predictably, reports on Steffen’s indictment by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Riverfront Times, and the St. Louis Business Journal made no mention of his important Democratic Party ties. Two of them, though, went out of their way to note that Steffen had received an award from President Bush.