Meet Joe Ricketts: Billionaire has Millions to Smear Obama, Demands Massive Taxpayer Subsidy for Baseball Stadium
This week, the New York Times reported that Joe Ricketts, a right-wing billionaire and founder of TD Ameritrade, is soliciting multi-million dollar ad proposals to attack President Obama. One such proposal, leaked to the paper, was a $10 million, racially-charged campaign entitled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End his Spending for Good.” The proposal, which center on Rev. Jeremiah Wright, suggests hiring an “extremely literate conservative African-American” to break down Obama’s image as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”
Ricketts moved quickly to publicly reject the plan after it leaked. His spokesman said it “reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion.” (The statement seems somewhat disingenuous as the Ricketts had already given “preliminary approval” for the $10 million concept after seeing a separate ad about Jeremiah Wright.) Nevertheless, Ricketts’ spokesman confirmed his intention spend money attacking Obama through an organization he controls called “Ending Spending Political Action Fund.”
There is one area, however, where Ricketts is much more open to government spending. He’s seeking a massive government subsidy for the Chicago Cubs, which he owns with his family, to renovate Wrigley Field. Here is the deal the Ricketts family is seeking, via Crain’s Chicago Business:
That means $300 million is needed for the ballpark proper.
Half would come from the team, presumably in increased revenue from more signage inside Wrigley and retail and other entertainment in what amounts to a game-day carnival on Waveland Avenue on Wrigley’s north side and Sheffield Avenue to the east.
And half would come from $150 million or so in bonds to be retired with increased revenue from the existing city and Cook County amusement taxes on ticket sales. Specifically, debt service would get the first 6 percent in growth above a base level of around $15 million a year now.
But it’s a little more complicated than that.
The team also wants a 50 percent cut of any increase in amusement tax revenue growth above 6 percent. And unlike the bonds, which would be retired in 30 or 35 years, that would be forever.
So Joe Ricketts and his family not only want a $150 million subsidy directly from taxpayers but also a large chunk of tax revenue from the city in perpetuity. In other words, taxes from the City of Chicago would no longer go to roads, schools and police officers but also into Joe Ricketts pocket. Without this taxpayer welfare, the family will presumably let Cubs, which they acquired in a highly competitive bidding process in 2009, play in a stadium that is falling into disrepair.
Ricketts negotiating position seems completely at odds with his public stated political views. In a video posted by another organization he controls, Taxpayers Against Earmarks, Ricketts says “I think it’s a crime for our elected officials to borrow money today, to spend money today and push the repayment of that loan out into the future on people who are not even born yet.” Of course, that’s what he is attempting force the taxpayers of Chicago to do for the benefit of his team and his family.
At the same time, Joe Ricketts has plenty of disposable income available to attack Obama. A Ricketts spokesperson said future attacks on Obama would “be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy.” Joe Ricketts, however, may want to focus on the fiscal policy of his baseball team. In 2011, the Cubs were “one of nine franchises in violation of MLB’s debt service rules.”