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. Sue

    Why would Romney have to worry about being a Christian Mormon?? Based on all polls-the majority of religious Christians--Catholics, Evangelicals, etc know this, and they are supporting Romney over Obama. Only the majority of religious black voters are choosing Obama over Romney. And, once this exposure of Obama begins, even more voters will doubt his claims of Obama being a Christian.

    May 17, 2012 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. tykl

    I guess Romney is strong-arming a distant financial supporter just like Obama is strong-arming Maher. Again, the self-righteous hypocrisy from the Left is transparent.

    May 17, 2012 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  3. robertholt

    Did President Obama really say that we must be a less Christian nation? Shame on him.

    May 17, 2012 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  4. Tony

    Romney has no choice. He does not want religion to be an issue in this campaign, because he knows that many evangelical Christians think Mormonism is a cult.

    May 17, 2012 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  5. Bren

    No, the problem in 2008 was that McCain did NOT use it, which he should have. If the pro-Obama media was not going to expose the "real" Obama, then McCain should have done so. Once Fox exposed Rev Wright, and the rest of the media had no choice but to report on it-Hillary won every primary after that. If this news would have been exposed sooner, Clinton would have won the nomination, not Obama!!

    May 17, 2012 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  6. anagram_kid

    Bill wrote – 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?
    So by your logic all Catholics condone molesting children.
    By the way, President Obama denounced Rev Wright during the 2008 campaign which is why it is not a bigger deal. You are a perfect example of an uniformed voter.

    May 17, 2012 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  7. Jules

    Romney 's super pac wants to put religion of any kind on the table? As an Obama supporter I say they should go for it. Then Mormonism has every right to be on the table and as an evangeluical Christian, that would be fine with me. We can talk about the prescribed underwear that Mitt Romney must air along with his explanation that Jesus was not God as man on earth, but a separate individual from God. What Wright said from the pulpit doesn't mean that President Obama agreed with it, but that he does agree with the tenants of that Christian faith. Romney also agrees with the tenants of h9is faith. So if the GOP wants to have this discussion – let's have it.

    May 17, 2012 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  8. shwebell

    "To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction."

    May 17, 2012 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  9. ST

    Come on folks, these people are playing with our mind. They do not come up with something new, know-how to help us. What is coming up with Rev. Wright story going to help us? We should all reject this kind of politics. It is totally wastage of our time and their time as well.

    May 17, 2012 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. anagram_kid

    This attack would open the door to people looking at some of the less than desirable traits of Gov. Romney’s religion such as polygamy, baptizing dead people of other religions by proxy, the open cannon nature of the religion and the opinion of many that it is a cult. Gov, Romney is smart enough to know that this type of mud will cause a back-splash.

    May 17, 2012 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  11. Lenny Pincus

    Poor wingers just don't have much powder, because talking religion will only hurt Mitt. No matter what Obama's preacher said, the good Bishop Romney believes in a lot of weird stuff.

    May 17, 2012 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  12. maximusvad

    A man's religion should never be held against him.
    "[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

    May 17, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  13. Rudy NYC


    At least Romney is running a campaign on jobs and the economy
    You're right. "Pres. Obama has made the economy worse." That is the extent of Romney's message.

    May 17, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. Matt

    I dont know if he said we must be a less Christian nation or not... but it's a fantastic idea either way. It's the religious crazies out there that have been fighting against FACTS like evolution, ancient earth, the big bang, and global warming. The belief that "Jesus will take care of everything" is blinding people from the fact that we are signing our own death warrant as a species.

    May 17, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  15. Anonymous


    Why would Romney have to worry about being a Christian Mormon??

    In 1823, while praying for forgiveness from his sins, Smith said he was visited at night by an angel named Moroni, who revealed the location of a buried book of golden plates as well as other artifacts, including a breastplate and a set of silver spectacles with lenses composed of seer stones, which had been hidden in a hill near his home. Smith said he attempted to remove the plates the next morning but was unsuccessful because the angel prevented him.

    and further reading reveals:

    According to Smith, beginning in the early 1820s he had visions, in one of which the angel Moroni directed him to a buried book of golden plates, inscribed with a Christian history of ancient American civilizations. In 1830, he published an English translation of these plates as the Book of Mormon, and organized the Church of Christ, as the restoration of the early Christian church. Church members were later called Latter Day Saints, Saints, or Mormons.

    Bit of a stretch to accept that Mr. Smith was visited by God and given directions from God to futher Christianity through the Book of Mormon. I'd be interested in Mitt's explanation of how these events transpired.

    It is a very a slippery slope for Mitt to travel, should he want to contine with this insane and negative campaign of his.

    May 17, 2012 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  16. Bryan

    I hope they bring the Wirght issue back. it will cause a closer look at Mormonism. If you have truly studied Mormonism, then you know it is not a Christian religion at all. It just likes to make people think it is to suck them in. To me Christianity is founded on the Good News of the Resurrection. Mormons do not believe in it and are not even a monotheistic religion, period. So bring it on and we can air all the dirty underwear out in public.

    May 17, 2012 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  17. shugee

    It's great to see someone show some class. Good for Ricketts and McCain. The rest of you should look in the mirror. Your Christianity needs a facelift.

    May 17, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  18. Recovering Republican

    This is a losing strategy. If Romney allows religion to take the forefront, then he will have to explain the magic underwear Mormons wear, and why they claim quite regularly that they are the "One True Church, with a living Prophet" while the rest of us are second class Christians with plain ol losers leading the flock. A smart Romney campaign will stear clear of Religion, cause Mitt will lose more than he wins on this one. Obama supporters do not back him due to his religious affiliations.

    May 17, 2012 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  19. Steve

    That's the beauty of PAC generated ads. The candidate (Mr. Romney) can denounce them but benefit from them. Thanks to Justice Roberts. He (Mr. Roberts) is either stupid or in the GOP pocket. Either way, he has created much of what you see.

    May 17, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  20. Pedro

    "It's clear President Obama's team is running a campaign of character assassination."

    Republicans put together yet another smear campaign. Then accuse Obama of using their tactics without any merit to their claims. Sometimes you just have to shake your head in disbelief.

    May 17, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  21. geeky

    What is this, 2007? They've already tried this, and it didn't work the first time.

    May 17, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  22. macrasta

    run the Ad GOP.. run the Ad..

    May 17, 2012 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  23. Ann


    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.

    What's the plan he talks the talk but not walking the walk. If you are referring to the RYAN plan there goes the country. Romey don't have a plan and lower thinkers like you will never vote for a Black man anyway. You know that Romey is UNFIT........

    May 17, 2012 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  24. US History 101

    Ummm, hmmm, I must be remembering things wrong. I thought this country was founded on the very principle of religious freedom. The idea that no government should encourage any religion over another. The idea that no religion was better than another. And the idea that government has no place in religion. Should we be a moral nation? ABSOLUTELY. Does that mean we have to be a Christian nation? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

    May 17, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  25. PTNY

    "The Ricketts family never approved it, and nothing has happened on it since the presentation."

    but still may have approved it in the future. It was on their desk waiting for approval.

    May 17, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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