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. linda Collins

    Justice Roberts has in effect gutted the entire political process and now it' s just "mad dogs" with money running the whole process. The supreme court is to the political process what the banks are to the economic disaster.

    May 17, 2012 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. Cedar Rapids

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

    No, no he didnt. so you can remove that from your list of reasons not to like him.

    May 17, 2012 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  3. Saywhatyoumean

    Politics these days is a corrupt form of business where the wealthy use their influence to better themselves financially off the backs of those less fortunate and the masses are none the wiser thanks to propaganda.

    May 17, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. Meuus

    Ricketts doesn't need to spend his money now the press has given him and his fellow hatemongers all the free publicity anyone could ever hope for and Ricketts and the GOP get to walk away looking like their not doing everything they can to get voters to hate this President.

    May 17, 2012 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  5. Jane

    Not sure if he actually said US should be a less Christian country but, speaking as someone raised Catholic, it seems like a reasonable theory to me. Contrary to what some of these hypocritical 'religious' leaders think, not EVERYONE in the United States is Christian. There are Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Agnostics, Muslims. "Christians" do not have the monopoly on morality (unless bigotry and child molestation are considered moral stances).

    May 17, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  6. TOM

    Voting = swapping the witch for the devil!! No matter who wins the election this year, as a nation we're already doomed!! America is so deep and entrenched in sin–it doesn't matter who the Prez is or what they stand for!!

    May 17, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  7. Penobscot

    Romney won this round.

    And it's funny how much play the connection between Wright and Obama is getting, despite the ad. If an ad is bad enough to reject, it's interesting enough to research.

    May 17, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. Mike Tebow

    The country needs to learn about Rev Wright. He is a racist a hater, he is not proud to be an American. We need to throw Obama and Rev Wright out on his behind.

    May 17, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  9. Ron

    Come on, the Dems wouldn't hesitate for a picosecond to air spots denouncing a GOPer's connection to a white racist, if such a link existed.

    May 17, 2012 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  10. ciabella23

    Think we all have the Tea Party member Sean Hannity to thank for this latest distraction fro the issues of Jobs and Economy -- wonder what was said off Camera, or what deal was made off camera between him on Romney in February when Romney brought up questions about Write and what was previously said, Romney kinda gave Hannity and all the go ahead to use this ammunition now didn't he.....

    May 17, 2012 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |


    This meme didn't work in 2008 and it will not work in 2012.

    You fail, GOP.

    May 17, 2012 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  12. Andrew

    I disagree with Rickets on many of his economic policy views. However, I have high respect for him for focusing only on what matters and shun this kind of behavior. Bringing up Rev. Wright again is like beating a dead horse.

    May 17, 2012 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  13. J

    About time someone is using the Wright issue. In 2008 the media looked the other way on everything and the McCain campaign never really stepped up their attack on Obama. The gloves needed to come off this time around and start exposing some of those things. You know for sure the Obama campaign will have theirs off so might as well.

    May 17, 2012 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  14. Grumpy

    Finally! The GOP got something right. Mr. Ricketts, I salute you, sir! Now if we can get rid of these super PACs, our political system will be safe once more.

    May 17, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  15. c

    Romeny DOES NOT WANT TO OPEN UP THE LDS-to public scrutiny. He made million doolrs investment for them. he doesn't wan t the public to know some of that tithing money fund many of their worldwide for profit businesses.
    I was hoping the old guy would give Rove the money. Rove is way out of his league with this beast.

    May 17, 2012 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  16. Blessed

    No one cares to focus on the good that churches of all stripes does in a community only on the outrageous things that churches are responsible for like – the evangelical churches support of Bush and the War (there one for Jesus to comment on when he comes…may cost you a place in The Rapture) or the systematic de facto promotion of pedophilia by the Catholic church, or a condemnation of white power. That is only covering some of the mainstream religions. If you really want to get wild of what fringe churches say…WOW. Churches are good for society and any member know how to balance that with the sometimes crazy message.

    May 17, 2012 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  17. Anonymous


    Romney won this round.

    And it's funny how much play the connection between Wright and Obama is getting, despite the ad. If an ad is bad enough to reject, it's interesting enough to research.

    No. Romney did not win this round. He ran from it as fast as he's run from anything to date - including his little jaunt to France during the Viet Nam war era of drafting our men to fight. No problem, though.

    I WAS looking forward to Romney's major speech on how Mormons consider themselves above maintream Christians, however. Oh, well. Such is life ...

    May 17, 2012 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  18. Bren

    Somebody here brought up a great point........Romney can pretend and say that he is against this.......Just like Obama does when Maher dishes out his disgusting attacks, or when his cronies attack Romney's wife, etc. It is fun/great using the Obama/liberal dirty-pool tactics right back on them!!! Soooooo according to the liberals--only the unions, gay rights groups, illegal immigrant rights groups, etc should be able to donate millions to election campaigns/candidates.

    May 17, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. Dan G.

    Here we go again with the Liberals and their "If you talk about Rev. Wright you're racist." game.

    May 17, 2012 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  20. Gerry Daley

    Thanks to the Supreme Court corporations and pacs have the right to buy America. And they have. Democracy – RIP.

    May 17, 2012 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  21. Dan G.

    This is one more diversion compliments of the New York Times for the Obama 2012 Blame, Demean, and Divert campaign.

    May 17, 2012 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  22. Lenny Pincus

    The Dems have been fastidious in not exploiting the Mormon question. If Rev. Wright gave you palpitations, Joseph Smith will put you in the grave,

    May 17, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  23. TonyInNYC

    Someone should remind Governor Romney that this "Christian nation" has freedom of religion, including other religions besides Christianity and the right not to believe in any religion at all.

    May 17, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  24. jimmy

    Sue; the problem is that many of my brothers and sisters in the Lord have sold their souls to the GOP (the party of righteousness) that to follow the party's main message which is hate takes precedent over the words of Jesus. Let's be honest what is the difference between a president who is deceived enough to believes that homosexuality is ok and a governor who believes that one day he will become like God and have many women impregnated by him to make his own people in a planet somewhere? A sin is a sin! Jesus wanted us to be known by our love but the hate for Obama is so strong that we are ready to usher in a man with antichrist religion into the white house. And how dare the GOP estabilshment shove down our throats a man who is a contradiction to our faith. If we are true to our convictions; I say this November we stay home. Either the GOP give us another candidate or we do not vote. Let's not be hypocrites. We can not say por-life, anti gay marriage...etc and the vote in the enemy of the gospel.

    May 17, 2012 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  25. John, PA

    Sure Billionaire Joe Ricketts can denounce the ad about Rev. Wright and how Rev. Wright influenced Mr. Obama. However; the rest of America has to try to survive the worst economy, worst job market, worst housing market until we get our chance to denounce Mr. Obama and the current version of the Democratic Party. The November 2012 election is coming, the landslide Republican win is coming.

    May 17, 2012 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
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