A billionaire philanthropist with a particular interest in opposing earmarks, Ricketts had previously played a bit part on the political scene. But he took an unflattering turn in the spotlight Thursday with a New York Times article that said a report he commissioned detailed how his super PAC, Ending Spending, could put $10 million toward an ad campaign about Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., his controversial former pastor.
Ricketts and his family, which owns the Chicago Cubs and includes in its ranks a high-profile Obama fundraiser, moved quickly Thursday to disavow the racially charged idea.
“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,” Brian Baker, president of the fund, said in a statement.
The dust-up highlights a danger for presidential campaigns in the era of super PACs, which have made it easier for wealthy individuals and corporations to spend freely on campaigns. Although the candidates may reap the benefits of that spending, they also face the risk that the groups or their donors will go rogue, pursuing lines of attack that reflect on them negatively.
Romney was forced repeatedly Thursday to comment on the proposal — overseen by GOP ad man Fred Davis — which derided Obama as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”
“I want to make it very clear: I repudiate that effort,” Romney told reporters in Florida. “I think it’s the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign. I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about vision for America.”
Liberals seized on the incident, with the group Americans United for Change calling for a boycott of Ameritrade “until they publicly call on Ricketts to shut down his hate-spewing super PAC.”
The incident highlighted the relatively private Ricketts, 70, who has recently increased his participation in conservative politics and is poised to play a significant role in the 2012 election.
Ricketts has an unusual profile for a rising political player, with little in his résuméto suggest that he favors controversial or attention-getting tactics.
A former Democrat who became a Republican, he later renounced all party affiliation to become an independent. His daughter, Laura, is a lesbian activist and prominent bundler for Obama; she raised about half a million dollars for the president.