UPDATED 05/17/12 – 3:33 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — A Republican super PAC funded by the father of Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has decided against launching a hard-line attack on President Barack Obama as he campaigns for reelection.
The New York Times reported Thursday morning that Joe Ricketts, founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade, commissioned an ad campaign to link President Obama to incendiary comments by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, retired pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, who once served as Obama’s spiritual adviser.
After the report appeared in the Times, Joe Ricketts said on Thursday that the plan was never set in motion and will not air.
Strategic Perception Inc., which prepared the proposed $10 million ad campaign, said “The Ricketts family never approved it, and nothing has happened on it since the presentation.”
In response to the proposed campaign, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “to launch a multimillion dollar divisive, attack campaign is not what the American people want, and I think there are moments when you have to stand up and say that’s not the right way to go.”
The proposal for the campaign by the Ending Spending Action Fund, as quoted by the New York Times, says “the world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way.”
Before Joe Ricketts’ announcement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed the plan at a news conference in Washington on Thursday.
“What is interesting to me is that this is all going to be funded by the owner of the Chicago Cubs,” Pelosi said. “I hope they are as successful with this campaign as the Cubs are on the baseball field.”
Republican Mitt Romney on Thursday discouraged supporters from going forward with the strategy. He said he would prefer to focus on the economy.
Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was slamming the anti-Obama proposal. Emanuel, who is Obama’s former chief of staff and a current Obama campaign co-chair, said “America’s too great a country with too great a future for the content they’re talking about. And it’s insulting to the president, and it’s insulting to the country.”
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The $10 million plan was one of many being studied by Ricketts, the New York Times reported. The billionaire Ricketts has been increasingly putting his fortune toward conservative political campaigns, the newspaper reported.
The New York Times received a copy of the ad campaign proposal, which was unveiled last week in Chicago to Ricketts’ family members and associates. The newspaper did not indicate whether Tom Ricketts or any of his siblings associated with the Cubs have any involvement with the proposal.
However, both Tom and Laura Ricketts quickly distanced themselves from the anti-Obama campaign.
Laura Ricketts is an Obama supporter and a lesbian activist. In a statement, she said, “All of my family members and I love this country and are passionate about doing what is right for the country. 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. My own personal view is that President Obama has been a great leader in very difficult times. He has been leading us to an economic recovery; served with great honor as commander-in-chief during a time of war; been a strong proponent on issues important to women and just last week he exhibited great courage in endorsing the freedom to marry for Gay and Lesbian Americans. I am doing all that I can to help President Obama get re-elected because it is what I believe is best for America.”
Tom Ricketts issued his own statement, saying, “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.
“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 anti-Obama campaign proposal is titled, “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good.” Accompanied by loud, boldface text, the cover page shows a small image of President Obama with his head in his hand.
Before the decision not to run the ad campaign, the super PAC was already seeking to quell any charges of race baiting that the ads could produce, by hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” as a spokesman, the New York Times reported. The Ending Spending Action Fund hopes the spokesman will demonstrate that Obama misled America by presenting himself as what the report calls a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln,” the newspaper reported.
Reverend Wright is well-remembered for generating a flurry of controversy after national news organizations played clips of his sermons early in 2008. In one oft-repeated sound bite from a sermon called “Confusing God and Government,” Wright said: “No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America.”
In March 2008 – when Obama was still in a heated race against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary nomination – Obama delivered a speech titled “A More Perfect Union” in Philadelphia in which he addressed issues of race in America and condemned Wright’s remarks while attempting to place them in a historical context. The Obama campaign also released Wright.
While Joe Ricketts is not directly involved in the management of the Cubs, speculation is already mounting that his anti-Obama campaign could have an impact on the city’s commitment to help fund renovations at Wrigley Field.
Asked whether the dust-up over the campaign proposal would affect plans to renovate Wrigley with city financial help, an Emanuel aide said the Ricketts family tried to call the mayor, but he said he doesn’t want to talk with them today, tomorrow, or anytime soon.
The Cubs want to use $200 million in public funds to construct the long-planned Triangle Building along Clark Street in front of the ballpark. The Triangle Building would house team offices, a restaurant and parking, and would feature a Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame, a Cubs Pro Shop, and new ticket windows.
The Ricketts family also wants to use amusement tax revenue to fund the renovation, but Mayor Emanuel has not said whether he supports that plan.
The Cubs and the City of Chicago have been negotiating a deal to fund the renovation of the 98-year-old Wrigley Field.