Weather Updates

Rahm blasts plan to attack Obama by Super PAC linked to Rickettses

Joe Ricketts founder TD Ameritrade father Chicago Cubs Chairman Board Tom Ricketts

Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade, and father of Chicago Cubs Chairman of the Board Tom Ricketts

storyidforme: 30644530
tmspicid: 11125680
fileheaderid: 5080457
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: June 29, 2012 9:45AM

A “livid” Mayor Rahm Emanuel is refusing to speak with the owners of the Chicago Cubs after their father was linked to a $10 million plan to launch an ad campaign attacking President Barack Obama by airing the racially charged sermons of Obama’s former pastor.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Joe Ricketts, father of Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, is working with high-profile Republican strategists through a new Super PAC, the Ending Spending Action Fund, on ads that would have featured the controversial sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side.

The Cubs desperately need Emanuel’s support as they attempt to get city and state help for a planned $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

“The Mayor was livid when he read that the Ricketts were going to launch a $10 million campaign against President Obama — with the type of racially motivated ads that are insulting to the president and the presidential campaign,” an Emanuel aide said. “He is also livid with their blatant hypocrisy.”

While Tom Ricketts issued a statement distancing himself from the plan — and reached out to Emanuel Thursday morning to tell him so — the aide said Emanuel won’t talk to him.

“The Ricketts[es] have tried to contact the mayor but he’s said that he does not want to talk with them today, tomorrow or anytime soon,” the aide said.

During an appearance Thursday, Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff who is co-chairing Obama’s re-election campaign, lashed out at Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade.

“America is too great a country with too great a future for the content that they’re talking about. And it’s insulting to the president. It’s insulting to the country,” said Emanuel, a Cubs fan. “I don’t think that’s fitting in a campaign of any nature. You can have disagreements without being disagreeable.”

The New York Times reported that the plan proposed an ad campaign that would hit “Barack right between the eyes” by showing “the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed. And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

But later Thursday, an aide to Joe Ricketts said the proposal to draw Wright — who became a campaign issue in 2008 when video surfaced of a sermon in which he said, “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human” — into the current presidential campaign went too far.

Brian Baker, president of the Super PAC, said Ricketts was not the author of the 54-page plan. Baker blamed consultants Strategic Perception, Inc., a Hollywood-based political advertising firm run by Fred Davis, who last worked on former Utah Gov. John Huntsman’s campaign. The firm said the plan was theirs and said “the Ricketts family never approved it.”

Agreed Baker: “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.”

The threat to resurrect the Wright controversy that Obama thought he put to rest during the 2008 campaign is poorly-timed for Joe Ricketts’ four children, who now run the trust that their parents set up and the kids used to buy the team. While Joe Ricketts has described himself in public forums as a Cubs owner, and there’s a YouTube video of him talking about the process of buying the team, a family spokesman says he has separated himself from the operation.

The Cubs were hoping for a vote on a state borrowing plan to bankroll the Wrigley renovation using tax-exempt bonds during the final two weeks of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session, paving the way for construction to begin in October. The team needs the mayor’s support, because the bonds would be retired by new advertising, sponsorship and concession revenues at Wrigley and a variation of the financing scheme that Emanuel once called a “non-starter” — forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth.

Before the Joe Ricketts controversy erupted this week, talks with Emanuel were continuing with a “sense of urgency” to accommodate the Cubs construction timetable, City Hall sources said.

Asked Thursday whether the proposed attack on Obama would derail a deal, Emanuel said, “I’ll have some conversations on that later — comments, rather.”

But later, City Hall sources said they still expect a Wrigley deal to get done because it’s a job creator and because Emanuel is all about “putting points on the board,” as the mayor likes to put it. The controversy could slow down the team’s accelerated construction timetable and empower the mayor to drive a harder bargain, however.

For his part, Tom Ricketts was quick to deny involvement with the Super PAC plan, which the New York Time said was presented last week in Chicago to “associates and family members of Joe Ricketts.”

“I repudiate any return to racially divisive issues in this year’s presidential campaign or in any setting — like my father has,” he said in a statement. “... I shall have no further comment on this or any other election year political issue.’’

Tom Ricketts gave $250 each to former mayor Richard M. Daley in 2003 and Sheriff Tom Dart in 2006, both Democrats. But most of his giving — close to $40,000 in the last three elections — has gone to Republicans.

Joe Ricketts lives in Nebraska and spent $200,000 on an ad campaign to help little-known State Sen. Deb Fischer pull off an upset Tuesday in that state’s Republican U.S. Senate primary. Another son, Pete Ricketts, has run as a Republican for a U.S. Senate seat there.

Son Todd Ricketts, of Chicago, has given $25,000 to Republican candidates in Illinois.

But daughter Laura Ricketts is a big contributor to Democrats — she’s given $200,000 to their candidates in recent years — and in this election cycle also bundled $800,000 from others for Obama.

“All of my family members and I love this country and are passionate about doing what is right for the country,” Laura said in a 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.”

Despite Emanuel’s move to freeze out the Ricketts, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said Joe Ricketts’ actions would not impact Tunney’s views on the Cubs plan — parts of which the alderman opposes.

“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,” Tunney said. “That said, his political activities are not relevant to my ongoing interactions with the Cubs organization.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.