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. jwest

    this is an election you stupid republicans, you are starting to sound like jerry springer. PUKE!

    May 17, 2012 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  2. dezicub

    Ricketts owns a team that hasn't won anything in 104 years. He won't win this contest either. He should just stay out of politics and find us a couple of pitchers.

    May 17, 2012 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  3. Pander Bear

    It's May and Romney is already desperate. This is going to be one sad and vicious campaign. Just look at the pathetic attacks on our President lobbed by posters on this blog.

    May 17, 2012 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  4. Frank Cardenas

    When the last hope for Romney is to attack those associated with the President ... in the past ... then everyone probably realizes these ROVE & PAC PEOPLE know they don't really have a good candidate!

    May 17, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  5. Data Driven

    Well, in my neck of the woods the value of my 401K has gone up about 50%, reflecting the almost 100% increase in value of the DJIA. Higher gas prices are just a reality, going forward. The only reason prices collapsed in the period of Bush' last months and Obama's first months in office is because the Great Recession was collapsing demand. Presidents.have nothing to with gas prices.

    As for the numbers, I invite you to check figures from non-partisan sources. Look up GDP from 08 to 12, look up to see first if jobs were created, and then how many were created versus how many lost. Don't look at websites from the left or right–try the CBO, try Bureau of Labor Statistics. If I'm wrong, get back to me, and I'll eat crow.

    Don't just make assertions; prove me wrong.

    May 17, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  6. Bob

    "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.

    Etch-A-Sketch just can't stop lying.

    May 17, 2012 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  7. GOPer Irony At Its Best

    "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"

    In courting your type of mentality, it's reasonable to assume CNN is already "down to none". It's exactly what has turned it's viewers away in droves already. This catering to a "certain" type of viewer best left to FOX News.

    May 17, 2012 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. Andrew

    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.


    This is a fallacy, particularly the gas prices. The summer of 2008, gas prices were HIGHER than they are NOW. The only reason they are higher than when Obama took office is because the econpmy COMPLETELY TANKED under Bush in 2008 and gas price plummeted way down. If you thought the economy would recover and gas would still be under $2.00, you are dellusional.

    May 17, 2012 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  9. Debbie

    So Joseph Smith and Mormonism will be the counter to this PAC.

    May 17, 2012 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Rusty

    Get.Money.Out.Of.Government. This is the kind of nonsense we're going to have to deal with. It's almost always tied to racism. Whether it's "John McCain had an illegitimate black baby" and now "obama's a kenyan socialist". It's the same bunch of moneyed power-brokers trying to shove fear down our throats, so that they can continue business as usual. I'm tired of this. Poor Cubs. They don't deserve this.

    May 17, 2012 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  11. Lili

    Is Romney a christian or what??? The behavior of his campaign zealots isn't representative of the christian faith and since he's not disavowing it, then that makes him weak and un-christian like!

    May 17, 2012 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  12. FLIndependent

    One would think that as a past Governor, Romney would have some accomplishments that can be highlighted in ads, but he must not have had any as I live in a swing state and haven't seen any such ads yet. The only weak ad I've seen is one where a father talks about how Romney shut down a company for a day so the employees could look for the father's missing daughter – not exactly a strking reason for Romney to be our next President. If the Romney superpacs want to use the old, tired rhetoric that has been used against President Obama in '08 I say go for it – it will only attract those that weren't going to vote for Obama anyway and it will be a waste of the precious money!

    May 17, 2012 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  13. Mark

    Rove is a traitor to the United States. He knowingly disclosed secret information about CIA operatives out of political vengeance. He smeared John Kerry who served his country with honor. If this scum’s mouth is moving, he is lying.

    It pretty obvious that he was the kid being beat up on the play ground whose only defense was “I know you are but what am I”. He game is to accuse his enemy of the same reprehensible things that he is doing.

    May 17, 2012 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. Mr. Moderate

    Remember we are talking about out of context comments from three sermons made over a 30 year career. How does this prove a pattern? Does anyone have tapes/transcripts of any of his other sermons? But nothing lilke an angry black man to frighten the base.

    May 17, 2012 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Peace

    If they will go back to revett Pres. Obama, they will look stupid like Sean Hannity. You always vet someone you do not know and NOT the person you know already.

    May 17, 2012 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  16. dd

    it's all fair game in politics....grow up .....

    May 17, 2012 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  17. Joi Gibson

    This is sleazy and I'm disgusted. If Willard had any, he would at least come right out and say this is out of bounds and he repudiates this kind of sleazy campaigning. This is going to backfire. It did not work in 2008 and it won't work in 2012.


    May 17, 2012 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  18. sammieb51

    Isn't his church is so secret you can't even visit it? And he is knocking Wright? How do we know what his church is advocating? Doesn't there "scripture" foretell a government take over? Don't they marry more than one woman? (Can't their women marry more than one man? – wonder how that works with their magic underwear!!) Isn't there a separation of church and state? Romney=American Dream Killer!!

    May 17, 2012 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  19. Joan Wheeler

    Does 'provocative' mean 'a pack of lies' in journalistic-speak? That's what this so called ad-campaign is - a pack of lies put together by the biggest liars in history: Karl Rove and his moneyed pals in the republica party. It outdoes the 'Swift-boat' smear campaign launched against Senator Kerry. This kind of lying, filthy smear campaign is partly if not entirely possible because of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited funds to be spent on political campaigns.

    May 17, 2012 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  20. Larry L

    I wonder Republicans would react to a biased comparison of Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism? Would they understand divisive quotes from both the pulpits and both Bible and Book of Mormon? Those quotes are readily available. Is this the sort of campaign Republicans want? They should be forewarned – Democrats aren't going to take boxing gloves to a knife fight – not this time...

    May 17, 2012 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  21. Sue

    I say.....expose Obama!! The media did not do its job of exposing the "real" Obama-it is about time that someone does!! If Rev Wright was in McCain or Romney's background, the pro-Obama media would be exposing this 24/7. And, I am also going to contact them to ask them to expose Obama's connections to Raila Odinga as well. For a real shocker, do a search on this guy and his connections to Obama!!

    May 17, 2012 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  22. Rick

    I get information from a high level unnamed source that all the unnamed donors to this pac are guys who have an affinity for young boys. How's that for an unsubstantiated rumor. I'd like to believe that the vast majority of Americans is smarter than to believe all the crap the pacs dish out but I can't.

    May 17, 2012 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  23. demrules

    In our organization, we are so pleased with the integrity of the Obama campaign. It is quite apparent that the Romney campaign has become so desperate as a result of the enormous amounts of reckless rhetoric spewing from the mouths of GOP supporters.
    Rev. Wright? Bring him on! The American people have shown they are intelligent enough to allow the GOP to have their moments of childish drama!

    May 17, 2012 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  24. Kelli

    Did that last year.............Come on Unfit Mitt is that all you got? I am so sick of people alway putting race in the game. Some people think that it will work. For some it would because they have so much hate in their heart. Today's people are smarter than this. We must move Forward not back 50 years ago. Through education and the internet one can learn a great deal. But if you want to vote for Unfit Mitt, continue being a lower thinker. Obama his done many great things, some of his policies I don;t agree with, but I dont agree with my husband and my place of employment sometimes. But that's how is goes. I still be vote for Obama because he is the right one for today.

    May 17, 2012 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  25. Bren

    FYI liberals.......Gas was $1.79/gallon when Obama took office. Gas has gone up OVER 100% since Obama took office. Go and search for this article......"Gasoline Up 100% Under Obama", James S Robbins, Washington Times, March 30, 2011.......Notice, that this article is from 2011, gas has gone up even higher in one year.....

    May 17, 2012 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
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