Todd Ricketts leads the Ending Spending SuperPAC. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file
Updated: November 30, 2013 7:57PM
WASHINGTON — With no fanfare, Todd Ricketts — the low-profile member of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs — became the CEO of one of the nation’s largest conservative political action committees last March.
Ricketts, a Wilmette businessman and Cubs board member, is the new CEO of Ending Spending’s SuperPAC and its nonprofit advocacy arm.
He is stepping up to lead the Ending Spending groups founded and largely funded by his father, Joe Ricketts. With the senior Ricketts passing on CEO chores to his son, Todd Ricketts is jumping into the major leagues of politics as a franchise player.
With a fierce, determined focus on cutting the national debt and deficit and reducing the size of government, the Ending Spending entities, while officially non-partisan, are aligned with the GOP.
But Todd Ricketts’ personal political interests go beyond fiscal issues, including joining his sister, Laura, one of President Barack Obama’s mega-fundraisers, in pushing for Illinois to legalize gay marriage.
Ricketts co-hosted a fund-raiser for the American Unity Fund on Oct. 7 in Chicago and is giving his financial support to the GOP-allied group pushing Republican lawmakers to support gay marriage in Illinois.
I’m talking to Ricketts and Brian Baker, the president of Ending Spending, over breakfast at a restaurant on Manhattan’s West Side. The two traveled to New York to meet the night before with potential Ending Spending supporters.
After the election, with Obama winning a second term, Ricketts tells me he decided to take on the CEO job “realizing that our struggle for fiscally responsible government was far from over and that we are going to continue to try to bring some sort of restraint to government until we have a balanced budget or something close to that.”
The Center for Responsive Politics ranked Ending Spending SuperPAC in the No. 9 spot for spending in its Top 10 SuperPAC list for the 2012 election cycle.
In the 2012 election cycle, the Ending Spending SuperPAC spent about $14 million to support Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates, most of it to boost the Romney/Ryan ticket. During the same time period, Ending Spending’s tax-exempt nonprofit arm bankrolled about $2.8 million in expenditures.
All told, that’s $16.8 million. Almost all of the Ending Spending SuperPAC money was contributed by Joe Ricketts, who remains at Ending Spending as board chairman.
Todd Ricketts, 44, is a Loyola University grad. He and his wife, Sylvie, are the parents of two young girls and a boy. His last splash in the news was in 2010 — when he was the star in an episode of the CBS show “Undercover Boss,” where he toiled as an anonymous worker at Wrigley Field.
He sits on the Cubs board with Laura and their brothers, Pete and Tom. Tom is the chairman of the ballclub. Ricketts also has a seat on the TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. Board, the company founded by his father that is the source of the family fortune.
Ricketts is also a co-owner of the Higher Gear bike shops in Highland Park and Wilmette — he pedals a Venge, a high-end bicycle — and the Big Blue Swim School in Wilmette.
At present, Ending Spending SuperPAC is most active in the heated Virginia governor’s race, spending about $400,000 in TV, radio and online ads to support the GOP nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, who so far is running behind Democratic contender Terry McAuliffe.
Cuccinelli strongly supports Virginia’s ban on gay marriage; McAuliffe would sign a bill repealing it.
Isn’t it a contradiction for someone who backs gay marriage to support a candidate who very much does not?
Ending Spending looks at where candidates stand on fiscal matters — not social issues, Baker said.
I asked Ricketts how he came to support gay marriage. “Historically, I’ve always been somewhat libertarian in my views on a lot of these topics,” he said.
“. . . I’ve always been in favor of gay marriage becoming legal in the United States.
“It hasn’t been an issue that I’ve always been actively involved with, so when Laura came to me, it didn’t take a lot of convincing to say ‘Look, all we need is to get a little bit of Republican support in Illinois and we can pass a gay marriage law.”
Legalizing gay marriage in Illinois faces an uphill battle. Though the Illinois Senate passed a gay marriage bill last Valentine’s Day — and Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign it — the measure appears to be short of votes in the Illinois House. It’s not clear yet if the House will take it up in the coming weeks during the fall Illinois General Assembly veto session.
Laura Ricketts — the first openly gay woman to own a piece of a MLB team — said her brother “for some time now really has been an advocate of marriage equality and LGBT equality in general. It is not something new for him.”
A major Democratic donor, Laura Ricketts said she wanted her brother’s help in fund-raising for the cause because “I don’t have a lot of connections to the Republican Party.”
He agreed when the two were lunching at Jerry’s, a sandwich shop in Andersonville on Chicago’s North Side. “I didn’t have to twist any arms,” she tells me.
Todd Ricketts has donated to GOP House candidates from Illinois, the Republican National Committee and several Republicans running for state offices.
His only Democratic check was $2,500 to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s political warchest on Sept. 30. The Cubs have been negotiating with Emanuel over a $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land near the ballpark.
Ricketts has not been particularly active in Illinois politics to date. His brother Pete made a failed Nebraska Senate bid in 2006; he is now a GOP candidate in the 2014 Nebraska race for governor.
“I have no inclination to run for office anytime,” Ricketts told me. “At the end of the day, what I really want to do is spend time with my kids and grow vegetables in my garden.”