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. Silly Baggers!

    The only reason he did this is because it leaked at the same time he is trying to get Rahm to commit taxpayer funds to fix Wrigley field. Yet according to this he wants to stop the spending. Yet another Repub hypocrite.

    May 17, 2012 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  2. November

    thanks to citizens united, we have to count on the ethics of billionaires. I'm not hopeful on that score.

    May 17, 2012 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  3. setnommarih

    Romney is right to reject ads concerning Wright, but as you can see the dems even turned his rejection into a slam. If Romney won't slam back, he needs some people who will. His statement was clear, the dems blamed him anyway, he better get used to that type of below the belt, southside Chicago politics. That is all Obama knows. HYPE & BLAME, whatever happened to hope and change?

    May 17, 2012 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  4. Silly Baggers!

    @Dan G – Racist wasn't even on my mind. Loser was. This is a loser issue for the Repubs if they go this route. McCain may not have wanted to do it but the Rev Wright issue still got plenty of play back in 08. People still voted for the man despite it then so trying to resurrect it now really is going to backfire and make the GOP look bad in the end.

    May 17, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  5. Nik

    Smart move by Romney, not to endorse such a strategy. He definitely should leave Pandora's Box on the shelf...the last thing he should want, during this election cycle, is for his personal religious beliefs to be vetted by the general public.

    May 17, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  6. souptwins

    Obama's campaign is saying Romney was strong enough in his opposition to this ad. Seriously? Romney didn't produce the ad and had no knowledge of it. He and Ricketts both have now rejected the ad and called for greater civility and yet that's not enough? News flash!! You can't have a tug of war when one person drops the rope. Romney never picked up the rope so who exactly are the Obama folks tugging against?

    May 17, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. Kiki

    Good to see the Republicans are focussing on the problems challenging our countriy's future.....not.

    May 17, 2012 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  8. demrules

    If the GOP tries to bring this up, the Dems will definitely force the GOP to have to answer the Mormon question that Romney has been avoiding. The GOP will need to condemn this quickly. They should remember that there are Democratic Super Pacs that's just waiting for a reason to unleash their counter attacks. If the GOP say that the LDS does not define who Romney is, then they should be quick to put on record that Jeremiah Wright does not define who President Obama is.

    May 17, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  9. WDinDallas

    The Republicans need to bring everything out. Obama wasn't vetted in 2008!

    We learned from moveon that anything, even lies, are usable. Heck yes, bring up the Rev. Wright, Bill Ayers, Larry Sinclair, Muslim faith, his mama, his daddy and redical Islam, racism (he and Michelle), Michelle losing her license to parctice law (extortion charges), and eveything else. Where are the transcripts? How about the real birth certificate, the one shown was froma hospital (same location) but a different name.

    May 17, 2012 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  10. Ganan

    Rev. Wright was paid off to keep his mouth shut after the election-–if you notice, he's said NOTHING since Obama took office. Time to get rid of the trash in the White House people. He is as corrupt as they come. Politics is a dirty dirty business.

    May 17, 2012 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  11. Obama 2012 - BEND Forward America, take another 4 long years of FAILURE

    Why did Obama's friend offer Rev. Wright $150,000 in 2008 for him to shutup and go away????
    What were they trying to hide?
    Don't the American people deserve to know the truth?

    May 17, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  12. hseshin3

    How do you now say you reject it when it was called the "Rickett's Plan"?

    May 17, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  13. keeth

    Lacking in any substantive arguments, the GOP is recycling debunked old news.

    May 17, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  14. Ann

    Reverend Wright? Who cares about that bit of old news? Please try it and while you are at it how about the birther nonsence and the race bating?

    News Flash!!!!!!!!!!!!It did not work in 2008 to prevent Barack Obama from becoming the POTUS and certainly will not work for 2012. The GOP what a bunch of desperate losers.

    May 17, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. WDinDallas

    Reminds you of Obama and moveon last year? Obama even endorsed moveon lieing negative attacks.

    May 17, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  16. catwill

    This type of propaganda by the Right and Sean Hannity of Fox will backfire and open up the issue of Faith and Mitt does not want to go there. REV Wright is so 2008.

    May 17, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  17. Mm

    If this is all the GOP has, they might as well turn out their lights and hand over the keys to the left.

    May 17, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  18. anagram_kid

    Mike Tebow wrote – 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.
    Some days I just shake my head at how uniformed some posters are. President Obama denounced what Rev. Wright said years ago. Try to keep up or at least learn to accept when you are wrong.
    Finally the idea of guilt by association is absurd. Do you agree with all of your friends on all issues? Do you work for a company where you agree with every decision? Do you associate with and benefit from people you do not agree with? The whole Wright kerfuffle is his is just another non-policy reason the righties give for their abject irrational hatred of President Obama.

    May 17, 2012 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  19. drew

    Mr. Ricketts, I have an idea for you. You want to do something useful for this country? You want to promote the economy and make things better? START SPENDING some damn money for a better Cubs team!! Put a better product on the damn field! Cause let me tell you, Cubs EVER win a world series then the economy would boom!

    Worry about the product you are putting on the field first, get your house in order first, then worry about everyone else

    May 17, 2012 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  20. n

    Ricketts another hateful and racist Republican. Now I hate the cubs because his family owns it. Romney is only for rich American he will lower the rich taxes but rest of American will pay higher taxes wake up America

    May 17, 2012 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  21. me me me

    well if they link obama to rev. wright then they won't be able to say he is a muslim. a recent pew survey found that 1 in 6 americans think obama is muslim.

    May 17, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. Gopherit

    The supposed campaign to character assassinate Obama by invoking the Jeremiah Wright legacy somehow appears to have the taint of Karl Rove underlying it. But it now seemingly is a tempest in a teapot, so to speak, with John McCain reportedly having vetoed similar efforts and now with Romney's apparent desire to focus upon issues which actually are important.

    May 17, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  23. Independent Ina

    Sounds like both sides of the aisle are getting caught up in this one. It is a dumb idea for Republicans, which Romney said, yet the Obama folks said he did not react harsh enough? We have a non story..... story..... here. An idea for stupid ads was put forth, rejected by Romney... and Pickett's.... yet it's still not good enough for the current administration? You just can't win in this type of political climate..... regardless of which side you are on. Figures.

    May 17, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  24. RomNuts

    It wouldn't have worked ... it would have backfired ... oh, yeah, and it's wrong, too. But if we thought it would have worked and wouldn't have backfired ... we could have overlooked that "wrong" stuff.

    May 17, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  25. Jim

    The Wright attack didn't stick before and won't stick now.

    May 17, 2012 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
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