Bloomberg News

Wealthy Donor Refused to Fund Race-Tinged Obama Attack

May 17, 2012

Mitt Romney at a campaign stop at the River City Brewing Company in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 17, 2012. Photographer: Stephen Morton/The New York Times via Redux

Mitt Romney at a campaign stop at the River City Brewing Company in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 17, 2012. Photographer: Stephen Morton/The New York Times via Redux

Mitt Romney denounced a plan drafted by Republican strategists to run a racially tinged advertising campaign against President Barack Obama focusing on his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr.

“I want to make it very clear I repudiate that effort,” Romney told reporters today after a campaign event in Jacksonville, Florida. “I hope that our campaigns can respectively be about the future and about issues and about a vision for America.”

Romney was responding to a report in today’s editions of the New York Times on a proposal for a super-political action committee backed by billionaire Joe Ricketts, the founder of what is now TD Ameritrade, to finance ads featuring Wright, whose racially incendiary sermons became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Ricketts, who pays for the Ending Spending Action Fund super-PAC, also disavowed the plan. The businessman “is neither the author nor the funder of the so-called ‘Ricketts Plan’ to defeat Mr. Obama that the New York Times wrote about this morning,” Brian Baker, president of the fund, said in a statement.

Steering the Message

The episode underscores the potential power of one wealthy individual to steer the narrative of the presidential campaign, along with the challenge Romney faces in keeping his message focused on the economy and away from divisive topics that could alienate independent voters whose support he needs to win.

Baker said the ad campaign was one of several proposals submitted to the super-PAC. It was turned aside because “it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects,” Baker said.

Although the Obama ad campaign was rejected, Baker said the Ending Spending Action Fund will remain active. “Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a president this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility,” Baker said.

The group ran ads backing Nebraska state Senator Deb Fischer, who won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on May 15 after having trailed in polls of the race for most of the year. It also supports Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who faces a recall election after eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions.

Ricketts’s daughter Laura has raised more than $500,000 for Obama.

‘Character Assassination’

Romney, during his brief question-and-answer session in Jacksonville arranged to respond to the Wright story, took a shot at the tone of Obama’s re-election bid.

“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 be my vision to get America working again,” Romney said.

He said he was referring to the Obama campaign’s criticism of his record as a private-equity executive at Bain Capital LLC, which he said was designed “not to describe success and failure, but somehow to suggest that I’m not a good person or not a good guy.”

Obama’s campaign spokesman, Ben LaBolt, responded that Romney was the one deviating from the issues.

Divisive Politics

“Today, Mitt Romney had the opportunity to distance himself from his previous attempts to inject the divisive politics of character assassination into the presidential race,” LaBolt said in a statement. “It was a moment that required moral leadership, and once again he didn’t rise to the occasion. Throughout the course of the campaign, he has repeatedly refused to stand up to the most extreme voices in the Republican Party.”

Past sermons by Wright that became an issue before Obama tied down the 2008 Democratic nomination included the pastor praising Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and contending that the government may have had a role in spreading AIDS to decimate the black population.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, also sought to distance his party from any ads the Ricketts-funded group might run to tie Obama to Wright.

“I don’t know what these other people do or why they do it; all I know is that the American people vote with their wallets,” Boehner said. “The campaign is going to be about economics, it’s going to be about jobs, as it should be,” Boehner told reporters.

Interesting Development

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she found it “interesting” that the super-PAC campaign “is all going to be funded by the owner of the Chicago Cubs. I hope they are as successful with this campaign as the Cubs are on the baseball field” because they “ain’t got no chance of going to any World Series.”

The Cubs won their last World Series in 1908, and they haven’t appeared in one since 1945.

The news of the prospective Obama attack ads overshadowed Romney’s campaign announcement that it had raised $40.1 million in its first month of joint fundraising with the Republican National Committee. He is in the middle of a two-day fundraising sweep through the politically competitive state of Florida that is expected to rake in $10 million.

Obama and the Democratic National Committee collected $43.6 million during the same month, his campaign said yesterday. Obama has been doing similar joint events with the national party, which carry a much higher price tag than candidate-only fundraisers.

Neither Romney nor Obama released how much money went into the candidates’ campaign coffers. Those figures are due at the Federal Election Commission by May 20.

“We are pleased with the strong support we have received from Americans across the country who are looking for new leadership in the White House,” said the Romney campaign’s national finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, in a statement announcing the fundraising total.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, at jdavis159@bloomberg.net; Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.


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