Chicago, IL —
Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder and patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs, is the money behind a $10-million plan to unleash a barrage of negative attacks on President Obama that would portray the president in a way that "John McCain would not let us do," according to a May 17 article in the New York Times.
The article says the Times obtained a copy of the plan from a person "who was alarmed by its tone." It says the proposal was commissioned by Ricketts' Super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund, and was presented to Ricketts and other family members recently.
The plan calls for tying Obama closely to his one-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose race-related comments were repudiated by Obama during the 2008 campaign. The plan also envisions using an "extremely literate conservative African-American" as a spokesman to argue that in 2008 Obama falsely portrayed himself, in the plan's words, as a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."
The attacks on Obama would be timed to coincide with the Democratic National Convention in September. The story adds that Ricketts has not signed off on the specifics of the plan but Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Action Fund PAC, told the Times in an interview May 16, "Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election. ...He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand."
After the story broke, however, Baker issued another statement disclaiming responsibility for the plan.
"Not only was this plan merely a proposal – one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors – but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects," Baker said.
And presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney distanced himself from the plan after the Times story broke.
"I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they're describing," Romney said in a statement. "I repudiate what they're thinking about."
The PAC has already spent considerable amounts of Ricketts' money to influence elections; its last-minute attack ads on Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning were credited as a major factor in Sarah Palin-backed Deb Fischer's upset win over Bruning earlier this month in the Nebraska U.S. Senate primary election. Fischer's campaign touts her "family values" record prominently.
Other candidates backed by Ricketts' money in recent years have also been unsupportive of LGBT rights; Nebraska U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns and U.S. Reps. Terry Lee and Adrian Smith, Republicans backed by Ricketts contributions, are all listed on the Human Rights Campaign's website as failing to support LGBT rights.
Ricketts' PAC also spent $600,000 to support conservative Republican Sharron Angle's unsuccessful attempt to unseat U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in 2010.
The Ending Spending Super PAC website rails against "out of control" federal spending and does not mention LGBT issues. But its rankings of U.S. senators overwhelmingly gives high marks to Republicans, most of whom have blocked LGBT-rights legislation, and low marks to Democratic senators.
A spokesperson for the Cubs, asked for comment on the Times article, said that the team is owned by Ricketts' children, not Joe Ricketts himself. One of those, Laura Ricketts, has been very public about being lesbian and has raised money for Obama. She is also on the board of Lambda Legal and co-chairs the Democratic National Committee's LGBT Leadership Council. Laura Ricketts was recently honored by the Center on Halsted for her support of the LGBT community.
The Cubs also have been a major funder of the Center on Halsted's Youth Fitness Program, which supports LGBT youth, and became the second Major League Baseball team, in summer 2011, to produce an anti-bullying video for the acclaimed "Its Get Better" campaign.
Laura Ricketts issued a statement in response to the Times story.
"All of my family members and I love this country and are passionate about doing what is right for the country," she stated. "That love of country was instilled in us by my father. We have different political views on how to achieve what is best for the future of America, but we agree that each of us is entitled to our own views and our right to voice those views. ...My own personal view is that President Obama has been a great leader in very difficult times. He has been leading us to an economic recovery, served with great honor as commander-in-chief during a time of war, been a strong proponent on issues important to women and just last week he exhibited great courage in endorsing the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. I am doing all that I can to help President Obama get re-elected because it is what I believe is best for America."
Laura Ricketts' brothers and Cubs co-owners Pete and Tom Ricketts have been active in conservative Republican circles. Pete Ricketts, as the 2006 Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska, ran against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians and abortion rights for women. Despite spending more than $11 million of his own money, Ricketts was easily defeated by Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson, garnering just 36 percent of the vote in the worst showing by a GOP Senate nominee in Nebraska in 26 years.
And Tom Ricketts has been a heavy contributor to Republican conservatives, including donating $50,000 to John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008 and backing U.S. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), who opposes marriage equality for lesbians and gays, in 2010. Tom Ricketts has also contributed to Johann and to the Nebraska GOP.
It's unclear how the controversy over the proposal may affect the Cubs' efforts to obtain state funding and city tax breaks to renovate Wrigley Field. The Cubs had previously asked for $200 million in state bonds and were reportedly negotiating a deal to use $150 million in Chicago city amusement taxes for the renovation. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had recently indicated support for working out a deal with the Cubs, reacted to news of the attack ad plan by calling it "insulting to the president" and "insulting to the country."
Late in the day, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Emanuel was refusing to take calls from Tom Ricketts.
"The Ricketts have tried to contact the mayor but he's said that he does not want to talk with them today, tomorrow or anytime soon," an aide to Emanuel told the Sun-Times.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, has questioned some aspects of the Cubs' renovation plans, expressing particular concerns about the plan's call for Sheffield Avenue to be closed for the baseball team's use on game days and its potential impact on the rooftops that sit beyond the outfield fences at Wrigley. In a statement, Tunney said he would continue to focus on those concerns.
"My focus remains on the community and residents I serve as alderman of the 44th Ward," Tunney said. "Currently, that includes ensuring that their views are represented in any negotiations with the Cubs regarding public financing support of a rehab of Wrigley Field. As I have stated previously, should amusement taxes be used to partially fund the renovations, the views of the community need to be respected. Investments in the quality of life for Lakeview residents are as equally important as renovations to the ballpark. I will continue to work with the residents and the Cubs towards an agreeable plan that takes all issues into consideration. While my political views are more in line with his daughter, Laura's, like every American, Joe Ricketts has the right to support the political candidates that best reflect his positions. That said, his political activities are not relevant to my ongoing interactions with the Cubs organization."