May 17th, 2012
01:45 PM ET
2 years ago

Billionaire denounces potential Rev. Wright ad

(CNN) – Billionaire Joe Ricketts on Thursday rejected an ad proposal by high-profile Republicans billed as a provocative campaign against President Barack Obama that would run around the Democratic National Convention.

Earlier Thursday The New York Times reported Republican strategists were working with billionaire Ricketts to run commercials "linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr."

The president of the super PAC supported by Ricketts said he neither authored nor funded the proposal and that it was one of "several submitted" to the PAC by third-party vendors.

"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 said in a statement. "Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally."

Strategic Perception, the ad company run by Fred Davis that was behind the Wright pitch, released a statement saying "The Ricketts family never approved it, and nothing has happened on it since the presentation."

Mitt Romney on Thursday renounced the potential ad strategy against President Barack Obama that would invoke Wright, in an interview and later at a press availability.

"I repudiate that effort. I think it's the wrong course for a PAC or a campaign," Romney told members of the press after a campaign stop in Jacksonville, Florida. "I hope that our campaigns can respectfully be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America."

Romney noted his campaign would soon be out with a positive television advertisement, saying it would contrast with recent attacks from Obama's team hitting Romney for his tenure as chief executive of Bain Capital.

"That will come up, I think, in a couple of days," Romney said of the ad. "It will be a positive ad about the things I would do if I were president. It's contrasting with the president's ad, which came out, again, as a character assassination ad. My own view is that, you know, we can talk about a lot of things, but the centerpiece of his campaign is quite clearly character assassination, and the centerpiece of my campaign is going to be my vision to get America working again and provide a better vision for our kids."

Asked what "character assassination" meant, Romney pointed to the Bain attacks, saying they were an attempt to "characterize me in a way that isn't accurate."

Romney's remarks followed his campaign's response, which included a call for election civility, after which Obama's campaign accused Romney of "reacting tepidly to the information."

Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said "Unlike the Obama campaign, Gov. Romney is running a campaign based on jobs and the economy, and we encourage everyone else to do the same."

"It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so,'" Rhoades added.

Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina said the reaction from Team Romney represented the Republican Party's shift to the right and toward "a hate-filled, divisive campaign."

"Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party," Messina said in a statement.

When asked about the Times report Thursday morning aboard his campaign plane, Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, said he had not yet read the papers.

Romney raised Rev. Wright earlier in the 2012 campaign cycle, when he questioned Obama's "philosophical leanings."

"I'm not sure which is worse, him listening to Rev. Wright or him saying that we must be a less Christian nation," Romney said on Sean Hannity's radio show in February.

When asked about the interview during the press conference Thursday, Romney said he didn't recall exactly what he said, but added "I stand by what I said, whatever it was."

Meanwhile, Democratic progressive organizations are organizing an "emergency conference call" to discuss the action in response to Ricketts, based on the Times report, according to a Democratic source.

When asked about the reports on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said it proves "guys like that so misunderstand the state of the nation.

"The public is so far beyond that," Biden said during a stop in Washington, Pennsylvania. "I mean look, there are certain things that are sorta so morally clear and straight and straight-lined about it. You almost don't even wanna comment."

Wright made headlines during the 2008 campaign for his controversial race-related comments, comments then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain did not capitalize on as part of his White House bid.

Obama was forced to distance himself from his former reverend.

Strategists told the Times, the plan would "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do."

On Thursday, Steve Schmidt, McCain's 2008 campaign manager, told CNN the campaign decided not to use Obama's connection to Wright because "It wasn't useful. It would have backfired. And more importantly, it's wrong."

A current spokesman for McCain said the senior senator stands by his 2008 decision to leave Wright out of the campaign.

"Senator McCain is very proud of the campaign he ran in 2008," McCain communications director Brian Rogers told CNN. "He stands by the decisions he made during that race and would make them again today if he had it to do over."

In response to the news Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supportive of the president, said there is an "ocean of Republican money coming right at President Obama - some of it dedicated to abject slime."

"Now is the time to fight back," he added in an email to supporters.

Ricketts, the founder and former CEO of TD Ameritrade whose family owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, has been particularly active in politics over the last few years. He, along with The Ending Spending Action Fund, the super PAC he supports, have backed candidates and causes dedicated to ending wasteful spending and special-interest earmarks. Recently, his PAC donated $250,000 to Deb Fischer's race for the GOP Senate nomination in Nebraska. Fischer captured the nomination in a come-from-behind victory.

– CNN's Jessica Yellin, Jim Acosta and Peter Hamby contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2012 • Jeremiah Wright • Mitt Romney • President Obama
soundoff (368 Responses)
  1. NATHAN WIMBERLY

    Mitt McCain's desperation campaign. He is toast and he knows it.

    May 17, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  2. Reality Check

    >a recent pew survey found that 1 in 6 americans think obama is muslim.

    Barack HUSSEIN Obama. Gee, I wonder how that could have happened? Maybe they are confusing him with Saddam HUSSEIN?

    May 17, 2012 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. cecilia

    all very well and good, but what do you bet it comes out – and Mittens will have clean hands – right

    May 17, 2012 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  4. Another distracting nonstory about a nonstory.

    The democrats are complaining about Romney using hateful and divisive campaign tactics? And the democrats are calling for civility? The only negative campaigning from the Romney camp has been to play back past statements made by Obama, and relate those statements to his actual decisions and policies as president. Democrats have been comparing Romney to Hitler and Stalin, republicans have been comparing Obama to Obama. That is harsh!

    May 17, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  5. DR

    Just wait until the blood oath of the Mormon temple ceremony that Mitt belongs to is brought out. It makes Wright look like the Pope.

    May 17, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  6. beecal

    funny that romney wants a civil, positive campaign after completely carpetbombing his opponets in the primary.
    they could'nt afford the response and were obliterated by mitt and his "independent" super pacs. but against an equally
    or better funded opponent, he decries negitivity.

    May 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  7. Al-NY,NY

    me me me

    well if they link obama to rev. wright then they won't be able to say he is a muslim. a recent pew survey found that 1 in 6 americans think obama is muslim.
    -------------------–

    I bet you $10,000 that these dopes think he DID go to Wright's church but he's STILL a Muslim. Talk about brain-dead

    May 17, 2012 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  8. John Herzog

    jobs 4.5 million new ones in last 3 years and economy...foreclosures dropping to 11%, and stock market up 8 trillion $'s during Obama's term are going to be tough jobs for Romney, especially when you consider how the economy has historically done during GOP presidencies (i.e. 4 trillion stock market loss during GW, a real estate collapse, a financial collapse, 2 recessions)...Why should we ever again trust, let alone elect, a GOP president?

    May 17, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  9. Hangar13

    Romney is right for wanting to focus on issues that affect the American people. Meanwhile, the POTUS and his media allies want the election to be about sodomy, which might be their best bet. By the way, those of you who are taking time off from your rigorous schedule of picketing and living in your mother's basement to slam the birthers – take a look at Breitbart's site today. Seems that BHO himslef claimed to be of Kenyan birth in 1991 when it was expedient. The article doesn't suggest that he was, just that he was never vetted by the media, and he changes his story to fit the day's audience. Example: for gay marriage before he was against it, before he was for it again. He was born in Hawaii, but you can hardly dismiss the birthers as "crazy" when the Messiah himself claims to be Kenyan – when it's convenient.

    May 17, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. Nancy

    Romney is not using Rev. Wright ads against Pres. Obama because he doesn't want his religion used against him. If President Obama is responsible for everything said by a preacher he may or may not have agreed with, then Gov. Romney is responsible for all that the Mormon church preaches. And Romney certainly doesn't want that.

    May 17, 2012 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  11. Reality Check

    I wonder why 60 Minutes hasn't interviewed Rev. Wright to clear the air once and for all??? Oh yeah, CBS only does Obama puff pieces.

    May 17, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  12. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    "Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short ... reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party" Sounds like President Obama's leadership. Although I support his goals he's been woefully lacking in the leadership to achieve them. After his campaign that's terribly disappointing-he can talk the talk but apparently he can't walk the walk.

    May 17, 2012 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  13. Michael C

    Considering the Cubs' record over the past 100 years, Obama shouldn't have much to worry about.

    May 17, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  14. independent

    An idea for a new tax law.

    Any company which does not declare its foreign profits on the annual tax return will not be allowed to bring that money into the U.S. in the future, for any reason, and will not qualify for domestic tax credits.

    May 17, 2012 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  15. anagram_kid

    When I read some of these posts I am simply astounded at how much people hate our president. And let me be clear these are not policy wonks or politics junkies. They hate the man, plain and simple. I did not vote for President Obama because he was the perfect candidate, there is no such thing. I voted for him, and will do so again, because he was the best candidate running. I did not vote for him because of admiration, I voted for him because he has the skills that are needed for effect and productive decision making. We need to take personal feelings out of politics and understand that we are hiring someone for the job of managing and directing our country. Their role is not to make us feel better about ourselves in comparison. Seriously, this is not the election for 4th grade class representative. If high achievers make you feel inferior, do something about it and don’t blame them.

    May 17, 2012 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  16. A.C.

    Romney and this billionaire only denounced it cause they DO NOT want to open up the religion debate. Obama/Biden 2012.

    May 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  17. Jeff

    What are they thinking?! Why is it that the socalled values party is ALWAYS wallowing in the muck and like a little playing in the mud who looks up when called, covered from head to toe in filth and says "WHAT?"

    The republicans have all the money but are lacking in the brain department...

    May 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  18. Richard "BONEHEAD" Cheney

    RoMoney is not the right person to be president. He truly does not understand the problems of this country and its people.

    May 17, 2012 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  19. Mm

    I am calling bs on Romney. he says this electionis all about women and kid. nothing could be further from his actual plans.

    May 17, 2012 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  20. Bill in Florida

    Wise of Romney and other sane Repubs to avoid going the Wright/Ayers/birther route. McCain also wisely rejected it and he's still a politician . Palin, Perry, Gingrich, and Trump all used some or all of this garbage and they're all former politicians.

    May 17, 2012 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  21. Peggy

    We are worried about passing debt along future generation but perhaps we should be worried about the legacy of bullying, lack of respect, hatefulness and disrespect. Let's fight a clean campaign.

    May 17, 2012 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  22. Beadles

    If we don't do something to stop the bickering, name-calling, drawing-lines-in the sand, immature behavior by those who are supposed to be our leaders – it won't matter one bit who gets elected this fall.

    May 17, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. Al

    So, our president sitting in a racist church for 20 years is off limits, but Romney harassing some gay kid 47 years ago is fair game. And you dems call the repubs desperate? You're delusional.

    May 17, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  24. Ornageman

    Lebron has better closing skills than Romney.

    Obama is a lock for re-election. Fox News reported that Obama had a 7 point lead. When Fox news reports a lead for Obama, you multiply by 2.

    And this is before all the debates. Obama will crush Romney's policies in public forum because they are the same policies os George Bush. You know the worst president since hoover.

    May 17, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  25. vic , nashville ,tn

    “Character assassination” Romney said now

    Talking about Bain is Character assassination? Give me break

    May 17, 2012 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
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