Cubs' Ricketts decries proposal

Updated: May 17, 2012, 7:39 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts issued a statement Thursday condemning "racially divisive issues" after an article in The New York Times detailing a proposal by Ricketts' "super PAC" to challenge President Obama's re-election campaign because of his relationship with controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright, among other things.

"As chairman of the Chicago Cubs, I repudiate any return to racially divisive issues in this year's presidential campaign or in any setting -- like my father has," Ricketts said in a statement released by his spokesman Dennis Culloton.

"My focus is on one of the great American pastimes, baseball. And our team and every other Major League Baseball team are great examples of people of diverse backgrounds working together towards a common goal. I shall have no further comment on this or any other election year political issue. My full-time focus is on making the Chicago Cubs a World Series champion, preserving Wrigley Field and making the Chicago Cubs a great corporate citizen."

The Cubs are currently working with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former chief of staff, and the state of Illinois to craft a public/private financing plan to renovate Wrigley Field.

In a story posted on the New York Times' website on Thursday morning, it was revealed that Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade who gave his children more than $400 million to buy the Cubs and Wrigley Field, was funding a $10 million political action committee, the Ending Spending Action Fund, aimed at challenging the president in the upcoming presidential election.

The media strategy plan titled, "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good," had yet to be approved by Ricketts, according to the Times story.

According to the campaign playbook, which the Times posted online, one specific aim was to highlight the president's relationship with his former pastor, which was a story in the 2008 election. After some of Wright's controversial statements on race and government came to light, Obama denounced the reverend and ended their association.

The leaked Ricketts document referred to the president as "the metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

It was reported that the plan was presented to Joe Ricketts' associates and family members in Chicago last weekend.

Obama's 2008 rival, Sen. John McCain, mostly steered clear of the topic and aides to Mitt Romney quickly repudiated the tactic on Thursday, leading Ricketts to torpedo the plan.

After the Times story was released, Joe Ricketts' spokesman Brian Baker came out with this statement:

"Joe Ricketts is a registered Independent, a fiscal conservative and an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, but he is neither the author nor the funder of the so-called Ricketts Plan to defeat Mr. Obama that The New York Times wrote about this morning," Joe Ricketts' spokesman Brian Baker said in a statement after the story came out. "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 and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take."

"I don't think that's fitting in a campaign of any nature," Emanuel said Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune. "You can have disagreements without being disagreeable."

"America is too great a country with too great a future with the content they are talking about," Emanuel added. "And it's insulting to the president, it's insulting to the country."

Tom Ricketts, his sister Laura Ricketts and Joe Ricketts all came out with statements disavowing against this prospective strategy.

Laura is a major donor to Democratic and gay and lesbian causes. She is also listed by the Obama campaign as a bundler raising between $200,000 and $500,000 in donations. She introduced Obama last February during a Chicago fundraising event that took in more than $1.4 million.

"All of my family members and I love this country and are passionate about doing what is right for the country," Laura Ricketts said in her statement. "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. Though we may have diverse political views, above all we love and respect each other."

The new super PACs allow well-funded business and other interest groups to wade into political issues that are too sensitive for rival campaigns. Ricketts is on the cutting edge of that phenomenon, one of several wealthy conservative financiers who have single-handedly set up super PACs and nonprofit foundations to advance their pet issues.

Ricketts spent nearly $1.2 million in 2010 to create Ending Spending Action Fund, which was reportedly considering the Wright attack ads. The committee has a sister nonprofit, also called Ending Spending, which Ricketts set up for issue advocacy. It was preceded by Taxpayers Against Earmarks, an advocacy group for Ricketts' campaign against the use of congressional provisions to benefit specific projects in legislators' districts.

Ricketts' website describes him as an advocate for "responsible government that promotes freedom, fosters free enterprise and encourages individual opportunity." The site also describes Ricketts' ventures since he retired in 2011 from TD Ameritrade, including the American Film Company; DNAinfo.com, a New York hyper-local website; and High Plains Bison, a bison meat product firm.

Ricketts' family in 2009 purchased 95 percent ownership of the Chicago Cubs for a reported $900 million. The main investor was Tom Ricketts, but Ricketts' other three children, Laura, Pete and Todd, also have interests and are on the team's board. Joe Ricketts also has an interest.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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