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. Anna

    Really Data – I believe you are telling a whopper, gas prices are higher, grocery prices are higher, electricity is higher, our nation is looked upon as being weak, Obama tells lie after lie after lie and you think we have gotten better – I disagree.

    Wright hates and damns America but sure stays here doesn't he? Obama sat underneath this hatred for 20 years (that's what he says) me, I'm out the door the first time a man rants against the country (with all it's warts) that is the greatest in the world – if Wright hated it so much, he was free to leave any time, I would have paid for the ticket

    May 17, 2012 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  2. Mike from Calgary

    Republican want to rerun this card against Obama. As I recall, they played that card and hand before and they lost their shirt in 2008.

    May 17, 2012 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. FLIndependent

    @ Four – "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."
    And you think the Obama supporters are the kool-ade drinkers! WOW!!

    May 17, 2012 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  4. Detcord

    Why run this story? Since CNN covered up Obama's connections to Wright your readers don't even know who he is.

    May 17, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  5. demwit

    Whats the problem? I spent the last 20yrs in church without pay attention to the preacher too...

    May 17, 2012 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  6. Eastsidermom

    If you are incensed by this as Ii am, please move any funds you have out of TDAmeritrade and boycott cubs games. Also good time now to donate to Obama campaign.

    May 17, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  7. livingston

    This is all old news. The only people who will care about this type of nonsense are already going to vote for Romney so I don't see what they think they are going to accomplish with it. Independents, like myself, have better things to do then listen to you rehash old news. If you have something new – then bring it out and back it up with facts I can check. I don't need to hear speculation or rumors. I don't like it when you lie to me. If you have nothing new then sit down and shut up. You have lied once to often.

    May 17, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  8. Cynthia L.

    JOBS anyone?? So far, Obama has been the only one listening. The others, including the Republican lackeys in Congress, just flap their lips.

    May 17, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  9. Rudy NYC

    It should be pointed out that all of our worst economic periods have occured under Republican administrations in the White House and years of the conservative fiscal policies. Enough said.

    May 17, 2012 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  10. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The word "FORMER" is important and now that we've got that out of the way, Mitt Romney is still a "PRACTI CING MORMON AND BISHOP". so it's time to look into what Mormons Practice if this man really wants to have that conversation.

    May 17, 2012 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  11. Aldenvyoid

    What bothers me time and time again is, we are trying to choose the next leader of the free world. What does religion have to do with it?...

    May 17, 2012 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  12. Viet.Vet

    As usual when they have no challenge to the accomplishment of the President, you go digging for dirt, deceit and lies in an attempt to discredit the President which will back fire and only appeal to the ignorant few and will serve only to polarize the majority of americans who know the defference between facts and fiction.

    May 17, 2012 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  13. Linda

    Why can't this Groups spend this money on building up their canidate (Romney) why can't they tell us how great his is and all the wonderful things he has done and all the great things he can do for this country and pay for the ADs that will explain Romney's stance on all the issues facing this country.....NO, WHY, because they can't, they only know how to be negative, deceptive, lie, and then use FEAR, FEAR, and more FEAR.....this will not help Romney, this will only hurt him in the election.....McCain didn't want these Ads and that made him more of a respectful man, it was his choice of Palin that cost him his election.....I would have voted for him until I listened and heard Palin and realized she was not capable of being not only VP but President if something would have happened to McCain......If the republicans use this old BS to try to win the election, they will lose more votes than they will get......

    May 17, 2012 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  14. Mephisto1

    Does a practicing Mormon really want to open this can of worms?

    May 17, 2012 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  15. PJ/TX

    And Romney, in his typical forceful, "I'm in charge" atttitude responded with:
    "I have not yet read the papers".

    May 17, 2012 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  16. 1CentFree

    It's bad move on Romney's side. It opens the floodgates for all of the Mormon bashing that has been pretty tame thus far.

    May 17, 2012 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  17. kate

    He is so dirty! Read this months SALT LAKE CITY MAGAZINE cover story,"THE MYTH of MITT".

    May 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  18. DaveC

    You know what the big news was yesterday? The republicans in congress were once again screaming about the debt ceiling. No mention on how to compromise to fix the economy, make jobs, etc. Nobody talks to each other anymore. It's the same old thing. Just like the automatic debt reduction rules. The republican congress agreed to it, voted it in and now does not want to adhere to it and above all want to spend money on nuclear weapons the pentagon says we don't need. Are these people crazy? They talk about making cuts but then want to spend money on programs no one wants.

    May 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  19. Yaw

    There has been actually personal attack ads by the Obama campaign against Romney no election civility was raised about the Obama campaign, but just a report that people not even linked to Romney are planning attacks against Obama now all are worried about election civility!! Lmao. So Obama can personally attack Romney all they want DIRECTLY but if someone who's not even connected to the Romney campaign suggests attacking Obama and Romney is the bad guy? This liberal bias is serious Americans need to wake up and see what the liberal media is trying to do, they are using propaganda to try to shape ur opinion and skew it towards the candidate they work for, and make no mistake, these so called news media outlets are all liberal leaning and rooting heavily for Obama. To the liberal media "Tell The Truth" and '
    "Be Fair" to both candidates. This constant attack, insults, demonetization, and utter hate for Mitt Romney is soo obvious and soo unfair to your viewers. (you will be down to none if this continues, we'll make sure of it)

    May 17, 2012 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  20. John, PA

    @ Kenny K
    Sure I’m all for looking at Romney’s Mormon practices.
    And we can look at these on Mr. Obama:
    – First President to apply for college aid as a foreign student, and then deny he was a foreigner.
    – First President to have a social security number from a state he has never lived in.
    – First President to hide his medical, educational and travel records.
    – First President to repeat the Holy Quran, tells us the early morning call of the Azan (Islamic call to worship) is the most beautiful sound on earth.

    May 17, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  21. BCT1019

    So now Democats are dividing the country? Wow!! When they don't like what they are seeing, they start playing the victim card.
    Its Romney thats keeping the press away, what are you afraid of??

    May 17, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  22. dave

    Probably not the best move considering that his son is trying to get the city of chicago (who's mayor was Obamas chief of staff) to ante up a couple of hundred million to renovate wrigley field, will be interesting to see who is hurt more the cubs or obama.

    May 17, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  23. Chase

    The sad part of this whole deal is you don't need to bring up any of it other than Obama sad and miserable governing performance the last 3.5 years. It won't matter if gas is $8 a gallon or Obama racks up another $5T in debt alot of these people that live off the government largess will vote for him. Their hope is in a MAN and government and I hate to say it but life is going to get rougher no matter who gets elected. As Rev Wright puts it, "Our chickens have come home to roost."

    May 17, 2012 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  24. California Gary

    I don't think Romney really wants to introduce religious beliefs into this election does he? I didn't think so.......he better do whatever he can to squelch this line of attack.

    May 17, 2012 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  25. ronald raygun

    mitt romney looks like jonah jameson

    May 17, 2012 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
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