May 17th, 2012
01:45 PM ET
6 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. Dave

    This is no surprise. Romney and the GOP have no ideas and no integrity whatsoever. They build their campaigns based on lies and and tearing the other person down. In the end, that's all these drooling idiots have...

    May 17, 2012 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  2. Ronda in Houston,TX

    The Rev. Wright issue is old, old, old. Is this the best the Repubs can do? I say, let them spend their millions of dollars on ads that will not make a bit of difference.

    Obama/Biden 2012!!!

    May 17, 2012 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  3. Rudy NYC

    "It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so."
    Since when is reciting one's opponent's words and record called character assassination? Maybe in Mitt Romney's case it is character assassination, because the Democrats are sure enough destroying the false character that the Republicans have painted on Mitt Romney.

    Bain Capital was never in the job creation business. Read their own Mission Statement. "...return on investments..." Profit. For every job that was created at Staples, it took away a job at a small, family-owned stationary store.

    May 17, 2012 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  4. Four and The Door

    NameBill, Obama's record has most likely already defeated him. Romney 2012 is just going through the formality and celebration of an actual election. The fact that Mitt Romney is the perfect guy for the job that needs to be done for America right now is just very fortunate. While Obama/ Biden 2012 is trying to divide and conquer, Americans are not the kind of people so easily divided. We work together and the magic is that everyone has the opportunity to do well. Obama only took that away for 4 years. Once Mitt Romney takes office it gets better for every American. Now and after us.

    May 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  5. ThinkAgain

    @Rudy NYC: "It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination. We repudiate any efforts on our side to do so."
    Refuting lies and negative ads is not negative campaigning. It's called setting the record straight.

    Ah, but the GOP has perfected the art of manipulating people who have absolutely no desire to be accountable for their actions, who lack intellect and who are more than happy to scapegoat others for their problems.

    It's all very fascist, something the world has seen too many times before. Because you know that if the GOP regains power, they'll finish destroying our economy and when, finally, the GOP base figures out their screwed, the GOP will incite them to violence against everyone who disagrees with the GOP and/or warned us of the results of the GOP's failed policies.

    The top 1% will simply walk away from the smoldering ruin of our country, focused on making their billions off the rising middle classes in India and China. The US will just be another vacation spot where they can play inside their gated communities far from the sprawling underclass they helped to create.

    May 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  6. bilk7

    If anyone knew about character assassination it would be Romney and the Republicans. If they think they are right on the issues, go after the President on them. Of course, maybe they know they can't beat Obama on the issues and need the lies and distortions to compete.

    May 17, 2012 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  7. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Mittens should be held to account for his flip-floppery and the public should be educated about it because we deserve and need to know who is asking for our votes and the kind of pandering, waffling and opportunism in which Mittens has engaged suggests that he lacks the kind of core, guiding principles that should mark a POTUS' decision making. "

    Absolutely the truth. Unfortunately, the media has become their own worst enemy and are unable to grasp the significance of how very shallow Mitt Romney actually is ... and it seems ... has always been througout his life. How Mitt would govern is well past the comprehension level of most journalists, even where they to care, which most don't.

    May 17, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  8. nilla

    Romney should embrace the proposed ad. He should also make a commercial likening Obama to Britney Spears, name Sarah Palin as his running mate, endear the nation to a $200,000+/year plumber, so he can adopt all of the successful strategies employed by the GOP in 2008.

    May 17, 2012 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  9. ThinkAgain

    You and your slime PACs want to talk religion, Mittens? Go right ahead – and we'll spend the next 6 months reminding all the evangelical GOP voters about all the cult practices and fantasies of the Mormon church.

    May 17, 2012 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  10. Anonymous

    Well this could certainly be interesting. First, the GOP and their wealthy promoters will wind up killing the "Obama is a Muslim" rumor by linking him to a mainstream Protestant Church; Second, they are opening Mr. Romney up to the possibility that Mormnism's more strange beliefs (like providing Mormon baptisms for the dead-especially Holocaust victims) will be aired.

    The really snacks of ddespiration on the part of the GOP. Sure, they've already lost on policy by affirming they want a war with Iran, and they're in it only to help the rich, but going out on the religion limb is just dumb.

    May 17, 2012 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  11. ThinkAgain

    @bilk7: "Of course, maybe they know they can't beat Obama on the issues and need the lies and distortions to compete."

    That's another reason why the GOP is actively trying to suppress voters this election, from changing voter
    registration deadlines to exclude college students, to demanding photo ID where none were required in the past.

    It is absolutely necessary for every Independent, Democrat and thinking Republican to GET OUT AND VOTE FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA in November 2012.

    Obama/Biden 2012

    May 17, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  12. v_mag

    The Ridiculous Right wants to bring up religion again? Great! Let's talk about Mormon beliefs for awhile then, and see how many Americans want someone in the White House who professes to believe that 19th century drivel. Want to discuss gay marriage? Let's also talk about the history of Mormons and polygamy. Want to bring race into it? Tell us about the segregation practiced by Mormons to this day. How about calling the President a Muslim again? How does Mormonism stack up against traditional Christianity?

    What I want to talk about is Rob-money, and how (if at all) he differs from George W. Bush, who caused the Great Recession with 2 needless wars and a free ride for the rich. The Bush's endorse him, and he hasn't repudiated their policies, so he must plan to take us further into the morass GWB created.

    May 17, 2012 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  13. Michael

    I read the article and all Mitt is doing is the same thing he did during the primary contest when his cronies assassinated his opponets! Mitt will talk about civility, and encourage behind close doors his superpacs to go for the jugular, hoping democrats will be deterred from exploiting his Mormon connection and all its baggage, meanwhile his superpacs just keep up the Rev Wright attacks! President Obama and the democrats must find a way to reveal to Americans the "hypocrisy" of repuglicans! Also, npot be afraid to remind them of the 11 trillion national debt he inherited, or the 1.3 trillion annual deficit, Banking, Mortgage, Wall street, Auto, and Healthcare crisises waiting for him in a neat package when elcted. He also, inherited 2 Wars, 2 conflicts with countries wanting nuclear weapons, an economy that had nose dived almost to the point of a depression, losing 750,000 jobs per month and a GDP of -8.9%! The good news is the economy and jobs are going in a positive direction under President Obama! No amount of repuglican money, media efforts or Mitt Romneys lies, distortions or misinformation is going to change the facts!

    May 17, 2012 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  14. 1crusader

    This SuperPac doesn't want to go down this road.First of all, the country is so past Jermiah Wright.Secondly, President Obama has denounced Wright, and his teachings.Thirdly, it will backfire on Romney.Mormonism is not accepted as a Christian denomination, by a large segment of churches; and from what I know of it, has held some beliefs and practices that are not common among mainstream churches.There is no religious test in The Constitution for office; and we will only be a distraction that the public will see through.

    May 17, 2012 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  15. Malory Archer

    Democrats baaaaaaaaaddddd. Republicans goooooooodddd.

    May 17, 2012 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  16. John, PA

    On a completely different subject, an American has to drop his citizenship to get away from taxes that burden all Americans! But not so fast only the Democrats will make up new taxes to stop it. Wasn’t there a revolution in America when those in government taxed too much?

    From ABC News: At a news conference this morning, Sens. Schumer and Bob Casey, D-Pa., will unveil the “Ex-PATRIOT” – “Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy” – Act to respond directly to Saverin’s move, which they dub a “scheme” that would “help him duck up to $67 million in taxes.”

    May 17, 2012 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  17. Sniffit

    "The only headlines during the 2008 campaign about Jeremiah A. Wright were from Fox News, American voters are tired of the media propping up, covering up for Mr. Obama."

    Google proves you so wrong it's not even funny. Grow up.

    May 17, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  18. Brooks

    This always seem to lead to screaming from the luntic Democratic party who hate Jesus. This ad would be about spewing hatred and acting pure as the driven snow. Liberals need to separate their hatred of religion from what is right and wrong. Spewing hatred from the pulpit or anywhere is wrong and if you sit idly by and listen as an eager participant that shows weakness.

    May 17, 2012 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  19. The Real Tom Paine

    -Four and The Door

    NameBill, Obama's record has most likely already defeated him. Romney 2012 is just going through the formality and celebration of an actual election. The fact that Mitt Romney is the perfect guy for the job that needs to be done for America right now is just very fortunate. While Obama/ Biden 2012 is trying to divide and conquer, Americans are not the kind of people so easily divided. We work together and the magic is that everyone has the opportunity to do well. Obama only took that away for 4 years. Once Mitt Romney takes office it gets better for every American. Now and after us.
    Of course he's perfect for the job, if your criteria for a president are those of Grover Norquist. All the GOP wants is a hand to write their wish list into law, a list that will blow an even bigger hole in the debt and put millions out of work. But, hey, at least Mitt and his friends will be doing well, eh? That's all that's important. Keep supporting your glorified Events Coordinator who begged for federal money to save the Olympics.

    May 17, 2012 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  20. Fair is Fair


    Why go back to 2008 issue about Mr. Wright , why keep bringing up the pass move on
    Sure. As soon as the left stops bringing up stuff that Romney "acted stupidly" as a teenager in the mid 60's.

    May 17, 2012 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. mein kamph

    It is simply amazing that this good mormom would allow his backers to lie and distort the truth so much. It is more of a statement about the mormon faith if one of their leaders has demonstrated that the religion believes deceit and lying is acceptable in order to gain power. I lose more and more faith with mormons the more I see this man and his staff work.

    May 17, 2012 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  22. AreYouForReal?!

    Everyone's missing the boat here. Mittens could care less if he links Obama to anyone or anything. Anything hurting the president helps him. He's worried about a back draft. Who knows the name of the church where Mittens and his family attends? Ever heard his minister speak? Mittens opens the door to Obama's religion, and everyone in America opens the door to Mittens, and all it's dark secrets and hidden ways come spilling out into the light... what is Mittens afraid of, why isn't this being presented to the American people?

    May 17, 2012 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  23. democracy doesnt work

    Reverend Wright? But... I thought Obama was secretly a Muslim? Or was it a Hindu? I can never remember anymore.

    May 17, 2012 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  24. Tim

    So the Republicans want to talk about jobs. Ok, the country is on a 20+ month job growth curve. Just bring out the books. The country was losing jobs per month instead of gaining. The stock market is well over 10,000 so investors are making profits. Isn't it ironic how so many Republicans scream about government spending until it is on something which directly affects them? They scream about the budget but none want to touch military spending, social security, taxes (which need to rise) and medicare. I know the argument is don't tax the job creators but if they are only creating jobs in low wage countries what i s the purpose of giving them a low tax base? Also, it should have been written into the rules, if you take a government hand out Mr. Banker, you HAVE to provide small business loans. They are the real reason the economy has not really caught as much traction. They used the money to shore up their books from all their crazy investment schemes. Reinstate the Glass-Stengall Act and sent banking back to being a boring occupation.

    May 17, 2012 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  25. Elizabeth

    Does that mean it's fair game to bring up Bishop Romney's religion?

    May 17, 2012 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
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