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Deb Fischer’s knight in super PAC armor: Joe Ricketts

at 04:16 PM ET, 05/16/2012

The Club for Growth, Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund, the Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks all backed losing candidates in Tuesday’s Senate primary in Nebraska.

But one outside group emerged victorious, and you should expect to hear more from it.

The Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC, funded by Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, whose family also owns the Chicago Cubs, made a mark in Nebraska with a targeted and very late $250,000 ad buy on behalf of Deb Fischer. The buy came just when momentum had shifted to Fischer and was double the amount the state senator spent on ads for herself. And in a close race, it might have made the difference for her.

But Ricketts’s ties to Omaha (where Ameritrade is based) don’t mean he’s done now that the Nebraska primary is over.

The fiscally conservative group — which includes the Ending Spending Action Fund super PAC and the nonprofit issue advocacy group Ending Spending — is looking to get involved in a series of races this year, including some other Republican Senate primaries.

The group also has an ad up in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) recall election and was ready to launch an ad against Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) toward the end of his primary, but it pulled back when it looked like Lugar was a sure loser, according to the group’s president, Brian Baker.

“We were ready to launch a very significant ad buy against Lugar; the ads were in the can and ready to go,” Baker said.

The involvement is a significant step up for the group compared to the 2010 campaign, when it earned some notice for spending $860,000 against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and invested a few hundred thousand more in House races.

The group wouldn’t say how much it plans to spend in 2010, but the moves in Indiana, Nebraska and Wisconsin early this primary season suggest it’s ready to take a step forward.

The group began as an anti-earmarking group, but once Congress banned the practice, it expanded its scope more broadly to fiscal conservative causes.

It doesn’t appear as though it will be spending money in as big a chunks as the other groups — at least not yet — but Ricketts’s deep pockets should allow it to get involved in targeted races at opportune times.

Ricketts has been both a Democrat and Republican, leaving the latter party more recently to become an independent. His son, Pete Ricketts, was the self-funding GOP nominee against Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) in 2006. Nelson’s retirement this year created the open seat Fischer ran for.

The elder Ricketts has also given $500,000 this cycle to the new anti-incumbent super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

His daughter, Laura Ricketts, meanwhile, is a LGBT activist and bundler for President Obama.

 
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