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. Myviewis

    At least Romney is running a campaign on jobs and the economy unlike Obama using Romney putting his dog on top of the car and Romney bullying a kid in High School ( not that Obama didn't do his own bullying of Coretta ) to attack Romney's character.

    May 17, 2012 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. Ryan in Texas

    It's time to take the gloves off and crush the Obamacrats.
    Rezco, Ayers, Wright – they are all fair game. If any Republican ever had those types of friends, mentors and funders – the left wouldn't let a day go by without mentioning it.
    It's time for Obama to be treated EQUALLY. That means scrutiny.
    Romney – you had no problem going negative on Santorum – what you only do that to conservatives and not progressives?

    May 17, 2012 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    People do not like the reasons why they might hate or dislike something. Knowing this, people play on that latent guilt and supply people with a reason to rationalize their hatred, clearing their minds of self guilt......and their morals.

    May 17, 2012 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. ozzie

    Can someone point me to a Republican who is not a racist or homophobic – or is willing to consistently and forcefully repudiate them? Republicans are the most unpatriotic, dangerous people on the planet. Why? Plain and simple – greed.

    May 17, 2012 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  5. Sam

    So much money spent to defame, defraud, distract, deride and derail in US politics. It started with Bush Sr. and has gotten progressively worse. We are now a direct reflection of this sick and disgusting political process!

    May 17, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. Liberal4Obama

    Why is CNN not condemning Romney campaign for attacking President Obama on religion like they condemn the Obama campaign for bringing up Bain Capital, double standard?

    May 17, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  7. John

    That didn't work In 2008 and It won't work Now. Mitt Romney Is listening to Saran Palin to much ,she try that In 2008.

    May 17, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  8. Ryan in Texas

    I don't get it. Romney can go negative on Santorum but not Obama?

    May 17, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  9. Mike

    Once again CNN is trying to whip up as much controversy as possible in this horse race especially if it makes Mitt look bad. Must be a slow news week.

    May 17, 2012 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  10. Obama 2012 - BEND Forward America, take another 4 long years of FAILURE

    Liberal4Obama
    Why is CNN not condemning Romney campaign for attacking President Obama on religion like they condemn the Obama campaign for bringing up Bain Capital, double standard?
    ===================================================================================

    I wasn't aware of CNN being an arm of the Obama re-election campaign. Why do you think they are?

    May 17, 2012 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. Bill

    I have never understood how this was not a bigger deal. Anyone attending the church of Rev. Wright must share much of his beliefs, or why not choose another place to worship? Republicans tried to take the high road in 08, but that was a mistake since this was a legitimate concern regarding Obama's political views. I think it is a little past the point were anyone will listen after four years.

    May 17, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  12. PTNY

    I think it's high time we pop into a few Mormon (Castles) Churches to see what this man is all about!

    Perhaps this Sunday.

    May 17, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  13. Laura

    Why not? It kept Obama from being elected in 2008 when they used it. Oh wait...

    May 17, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  14. shay

    Romney probably doesn't want to bring religion up at all because if we start going there he would have to start answering questions about his Mormonism, which has some weird aspects to it. I think the Obama campaign would leave the Mormonism alone if the Romney campaign leaves the Rev Wright stuff alone.

    May 17, 2012 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  15. AmericanPeasant

    Mitt is mad for two good reasons at this ad campaign.

    #1- Reviving Rev. Wright might force Mitt to talk about his own controversial religion.

    #2- Using the Rev. Wright controversy will once again clearly show that Obama is Christian and not a Muslim, something which will hurt his fringe supporters' misinformation campaigns and create a conundrum for his evangelical supporters which all ready have doubts about Mitt because he is a mormon..

    May 17, 2012 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  16. Newmoon2

    Seriously? This is your best shot? Using an 'issue' already worked over in the last election? LMAO! Does the phrase 'beating a dead horse' mean anything?

    May 17, 2012 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  17. Stan

    Ha ha ha, because it worked so well the first time around?

    Romney is smart enough to distance himself from a losing strategy.

    May 17, 2012 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. Joan

    Probably the Romney campaign knows it should be careful in this matter. If they want to bring up the Wright-Obama connection which obviously didn't work the last time, then it gives the Democrats a perfect right to ask the same questions about Romney's religious connections. They can ask about his grandfather's four wives, the Book of Mormons, magic underwear, how Jesus appeared in the US and many other "truths" that can can be exposed. If they want to go after Pres. Obama's faith, then be prepared for a really interesting investigation into Romney's faith.

    May 17, 2012 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  19. Rick 7809

    If super PACs are not connected to the official "campaign", why is Romney telling them what they should be doing. What happened to his earlier position of.."they are a separate organization that I cannot control". Before this is over, all of the negative ads will be PAC supported and there will be nobody to blame. All thanks to "W"'s Supreme Court.

    May 17, 2012 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  20. Cheryl2

    Romney knows it will backfire and hurt him in the end. Afterall, Obama is just sitting and listening to the reverend while Romney takes a leadership role in terrorizing a man because they didn't like the way he wore his hair.

    May 17, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  21. Stan

    @Bill, not necessarily. I could point out plenty of Catholics that don't agree with the church's views on Birth Control & yet they attend mass regularly. I'm still looking for any church (or ideology for that matter) that I agree even 80% with. If I waited until I found a church/politician/etc that I even shared most beliefs wtih, I'd be a non-voting atheist at this point.

    May 17, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. Mark

    Romney uses the word economy but never says anything about it. He talks to the American people like we are morons. He has not intention of initiating any policies that will produce jobs in this country. He will continue the off-shore outsourcing of American jobs because it is profitable for businesses. Romney is for business and not America. He is not good for America. He is good for his campaign contributors. Don't vote for him. He's trying to con us.

    May 17, 2012 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  23. jk in MN

    Just another example of how low the SUPERPACS will go. The voters in America need to wise up and not be swayed by any SUPERPAC advertising – if you can identify it! Way to go – Supreme Court – you've damaged fair elections with your Citizen's United ruling.

    May 17, 2012 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  24. Alan

    I guess it's time to delve more deeply into the Mormon religion, and the reason Romney's grandpa moved to Mexico. Mitt has many, many grandmothers, because grandpa was a polygamist. And what about the magic underwear, and the planet that you get when you die, and on and on. Mitt believes in a bizarre religion.

    May 17, 2012 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  25. PTNY

    Republicans are pushing Religion so hard into this election,

    We absolutely MUST go visit a Mormon Church to see what MRomney believes and follows.

    May 17, 2012 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
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