Billionaire Won't Finance Jeremiah Wright Ads

Joe Ricketts has backed away from a GOP super PAC attack ad targeting the defeat of "Barack Hussein Obama."

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Billionaire financier Joe Ricketts (Kris Connor/Getty)

According to the New York Times, billionaire financier Joe Ricketts has backed away from a controversial plan to bankroll an ad campaign by a super PAC (political action committee) that links President Barack Obama to the widely publicized racially contentious statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. The decision follows a wave of denouncements from both sides of the aisle, including Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.

The New York Times reports:

Joe Ricketts, an up-by-the-bootstraps billionaire whose varied holdings include a name-brand brokerage firm in Omaha, a baseball team in Chicago, herds of bison in Wyoming and a start-up news Web site in New York, wanted to be a player in the 2012 election. On Thursday he was, though not in the way he had intended.

Word that Mr. Ricketts had considered bankrolling a $10 million advertising campaign linking President Obama to the incendiary race-infused statements of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., brought waves of denunciation from Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign and much of the rest of the political world.

Highlighting the perils of mixing partisan politics and corporate citizenship, the reverberations also swept through the Ricketts family’s business empire.

Liberal groups encouraged like-minded investors to drop their accounts with TD Ameritrade, the brokerage firm Mr. Ricketts founded. His family’s plan to seek public financing for improvements to Wrigley Field, home of their baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, ran into new political opposition. And he was forced to write a letter to reporters at his New York news organization, DNAinfo.com, assuring them he believed that “my personal politics should have absolutely no impact on your work.”

By early afternoon, Mr. Ricketts had announced that he had rejected the ad campaign as out of keeping with his own political style, a day after his aides indicated that it was still under consideration.

The episode all but ensured that Republicans would remain under intense pressure not to invoke Mr. Wright’s provocative statements so directly for the balance of the campaign. And, in a year when the loosened system of campaign finance regulations is encouraging wealthy individuals to weigh in on behalf of candidates and causes, Mr. Ricketts became a case study in the risks of political neophytes with big checkbooks seeking to play at the highest and roughest levels of politics.

Both Romney and Ricketts made smart decisions to tone down campaign rhetoric in what is shaping up to be a nasty election season, especially with the involvement of deep-pocketed super PACs. The hope is that this will set the tone for the next several months so that the candidates can focus on important issues.

Read more at the New York Times.

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