CANT HIS CHICAGOAN STOP TRUMP?

Cubs exec Todd Ricketts key player in quest to de­rail Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - LYNN SWEET

Can Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial front-run­ner Don­ald Trump be stopped? An asym­met­ric can­di­date who said in Thurs­day’s de­bate, “I guar­an­tee you there is no prob­lem” with the size of his hands — or any other body part?

Todd Ricketts is in the game to de­rail his can­di­dacy, with not many in­nings left.

Ricketts, the Cubs board mem­ber and Wil­mette busi­ness­man who over­sees the End­ing Spend­ing con­ser­va­tive su­per PAC, has emerged as ama­jor force try­ing to keep both Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton out of the White House.

Ricketts, 46, is the key player in the Our Prin­ci­ples PAC— the big­gest anti-Trump group and the first out of the gate. It was jump-started with a $3mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion in Jan­uary fromhis mother, Mar­lene Ricketts.

Fu­ture 45, a su­per PAC ded­i­cated to at­tack­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton that was formed last year, counts among its donors the political fund Ricketts runs.

And be­fore the Feb. 1 Iowa cau­cus vote, Ricketts’ ESA Fund launched an ad blitz to op­pose Bernie San­ders — a move Clin­ton slammed from a bowl­ing al­ley in the town of Adel as a clever-ma­neu­ver re­ally in­tended to drain votes from her.

The win­dow is clos­ing on sidelin­ing Trump’s bid, which Our Prin- ciples has been try­ing to do since it was cre­ated last Jan­uary.

“Peo­ple thought Trump would have his mo­ment” and then “start to fade,” Ricketts says in an in­ter­view.

Ob­vi­ously, that didn’t hap­pen. And Repub­li­cans— in­clud­ing Mitt Rom­ney, who de­liv­ered a pow­er­ful in­dict­ment of Trump in a Thurs­day speech— are step­ping up ef­forts to de­prive Trump from ef­fec­tively clinch­ing the GOP nom­i­na­tion af­ter del­e­gate-rich Illinois, Florida, Ohio and other states vote on March 15.

What hap­pens on March 16 and af­ter isn’t ex­actly clear to Ricketts — who, like Rom­ney, isn’t en­dors­ing any­one in the pres­i­den­tial race.

His im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity, though, is to pre­vent Trump, the bil­lion­aire and re­al­ity TV star, from lock­ing up most of the 1,237 del­e­gates needed to be­come the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.

March 15 votes will help de­ter­mine whether the Repub­li­can field con­sol­i­dates sooner rather than later — and whether the party heads to a bro­kered na­tional con­ven­tion July 18-21 in Cleve­land.

It’s hard to see how U.S. Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., and Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich could sur­vive if they don’t win their home states on March 15.

It’s been three years since Ricketts took the ba­ton fromhis father, Joe Ricketts, and be­came chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of End­ing Spend­ing’s su­per PAC and the ad­vo­cacy arm the el­der Ricketts founded— one of the largest con­ser­va­tive political ac­tion com­mit­tees in the na­tion.

Now, Ricketts finds him­self on the front lines of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. He’s step­ping out from the shadow of his father as he dives deeper into the world of

‘‘TRUMP IS NOT A CON­SIS­TENT CON­SER­VA­TIVE . . . I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE HE STANDS. I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A TRUMP PRES­I­DENCY LOOKS LIKE.’’

TODD RICKETTS

pol­icy and pol­i­tics.

Ricketts is far­more of a known quan­tity now than he was in March 2013, when he took over End­ing Spend­ing.

The Loyola Univer­sity grad­u­ate and his wife, Sylvie, are the par­ents of two girls and a boy. His father, the Cubs pa­tri­arch, is the founder of TD Amer­i­trade, the source of the fam­ily wealth.

Todd Ricketts has a seat on the TD Amer­i­trade Hold­ing Corp. board and is co-owner of a bike store and swim school in Wil­mette and a data man­age­ment com­pany in Wis­con­sin.

Ricketts knows that his political ac­tiv­i­ties get more at­ten­tion be­cause he is a Cubs board­mem­ber. His other sib­lings also are on the board: Pete Ricketts, elected the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ne­braska in Novem­ber 2014; Laura Ricketts, ama­jor Demo­cratic cam­paign con­trib­u­tor and fund-raiser who chairs the les­bian LPAC; and Tom Ricketts, who is the chair­man of the ball­club.

Tom Ricketts re­cently upped his own political pro­file. Last month, he was a co-host of a fund-raiser at The Rac­quet Club, 1365N. Dear­born Pkwy., for Wy­oming Repub­li­can U.S. House hope­ful Liz Cheney, who ap­peared with her father, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney.

When the pres­i­den­tial cy­cle started, Ricketts and the Repub­li­can wing of his fam­ily— among the big­gest donors in the na­tion— were back­ing Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker.

Ricketts saw Walker as a solid Wash­ing­ton out­sider with seem­ingly enor­mous po­ten­tial, be­came his na­tional co-fi­nance chair and led a fam­ily ef­fort to do­nate al­most $5 mil­lion to the su­per PAC bol­ster­ing him. In Septem­ber, though, Walker be­came the first Repub­li­can in the large field to drop his bid for pres­i­dent.

Af­ter giv­ing his all to Walker, Ricketts de­cided not to jump to an­other can­di­date.

“I took the time to eval­u­ate the other can­di­dates,” he says. “Dur­ing that process, I re­al­ized I could not sup­port the cam­paign of Don­ald Trump.”

Af­ter find­ing suc­cess in in­creas­ing the num­ber of Repub­li­cans in Congress, gov­er­nor­ships, state houses and other state of­fices, Ricketts says he grew­more con­cerned as it be­came clearer Trump was catch­ing on.

The prob­lem, he says, is that “Trump is not a con­sis­tent conser- va­tive,” some­one not to be trusted on is­sues like taxes and ditch­ing Oba­macare. He calls Trump the “an­tithe­sis of fis­cal con­ser­vatism,” which is a core is­sue for Ricketts.

“I have no idea where he stands,” Ricketts says. “I have no idea what a Trump pres­i­dency looks like.”

Our Prin­ci­ples PAC was launched be­cause “some­body needed to get out there and de­fine Trump while the other can­di­dates sorted them­selves out,” Ricketts says.

I asked how his mom, Mar­lene, de­cided to put in the $3 mil­lion.

“We sit down pe­ri­od­i­cally and talk bud­get and where we want to spend money and where we can be most ef­fec­tive,” Ricketts says.

As polls were clos­ing on Su­per Tues­day— the day last week when Trump’s vic­to­ries pushed him closer to the num­ber of del­e­gates he’d need to clinch the nom­i­na­tion— Ricketts was on a con­fer­ence call with Meg Whit­man, the Hewlett Packard pres­i­dent and CEO; New York hedge fund man­ager Paul Singer; and Brian Baker, the pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel of End­ing Spend­ing.

Singer, amega-donor, gave Ricketts’ ESA Fund $1 mil­lion in 2015.

The peo­ple who took part in the con­fer­ence call— busi­ness peo­ple and po­ten­tial con­trib­u­tors— were briefed on the “del­e­gate math” and how spend­ing money can help de­fine Trump.

For­most of the pri­mary sea­son, Trump was left alone while his ri­vals sliced into each other.

In Iowa, in ad­vance of the Feb. 1 vote, Our Prin­ci­ples PAC spent about $2.5 mil­lion rip­ping Trump and ques­tion­ing his com­mit­ment to con­ser­vatism. Af­ter ads started run­ning against Trump, he lost. The Iowa cau­cus was won by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

A few hours ear­lier on Su­per Tues­day, Our Prin­ci­ples PAC had an­nounced what the group called “a seven-fig­ure ad buy,” with anti-Trump spots to run in Illinois, Florida and Michi­gan— which holds its pri­mary on Tues­day. Most of the anti-Trump ac­tion is fo­cused on win­ner-take-all Florida, which has 99 del­e­gates up for grabs.

In­deed, on Fri­day, Our Prin­ci­ples PAC re­ported to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion spend­ing $3 mil­lion to op­pose Trump, with most of it in Florida for me­dia and on­line ad­ver­tis­ing.

When Mar­lene Ricketts’ name sur­faced as the Our Prin­ci­ples ma­jor donor, Trump, mis­spelling the fam­ily name, said in a Tweet, “I hear the Rick­ets fam­ily, who own the Chicago Cubs, are se­cretly spend­ing $’s against me. They bet­ter be care­ful, they have a lot to hide!”

The spend­ing wasn’t se­cret, though. Mar­lene Ricketts’ con­tri­bu­tion was re­ported, as re­quired, to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion.

The larger ma­neu­ver— go­ing af­ter the Rick­ettses the way Trump did— struck Ricketts as not a sound long-term strat­egy.

While Trump makes much of his claim that his pri­mary run is be­ing self-funded— though he does take money from con­trib­u­tors — a cam­paign spokes­woman con­firmed last week that he has not pledged to bankroll his own gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

Run­ning a na­tional cam­paign is an ex­pen­sive, mas­sive, sprawl­ing en­ter­prise, and Trump just might need help. Declar­ing war on ev­ery­one who op­poses him might be short­sighted.

“I don’t think there is a path to the pres­i­dency with­out the sup­port of the party for ei­ther side,” Ricketts says.

If Trump is the nom­i­nee, is he electable?

“I don’t know,” Ricketts says. “Things change so quickly.”

Would he vote for him? “It re­mains to be seen.

“I un­der­stand peo­ple are look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Ricketts says. “It’s just that Trump is not the dif­fer­ence we are look­ing for.”

MONEY TRAIL: In Jan­uary, the Our Prin­ci­ples fund took in $7,500 from Lake For­est megadonor Richard Uih­lein, who runs Uline, a prod­uct dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany. Chicago hedge fund hon­cho Ken Grif­fin, an­other mega­giver, is also a Fu­ture 45 con­trib­u­tor, giv­ing $250,000 last year. Grif­fin is also ama­jor con­trib­u­tor to the ESA Fund, giv­ing $500,000 in 2015, aswell as a big sup­porter of the su­per PAC that’s help­ing Ru­bio.

“I HEAR THE RICK­ETS FAM­ILY, WHO OWN THE CHICAGOCUBS, ARE SE­CRETLY SPEND­ING $’S AGAINST ME. THEY BET­TER BECAREFUL, THEY­HAVE A LOT TO HIDE!”

DON­ALD TRUMP

in a tweet on Feb. 22

SUNSUN-TIMESTIMESFILESFILES

AP FILES

GETTY IM­AGES

| SUN-TIMES FILES

The Ricketts fam­ily atWrigley Field in Oc­to­ber 2009: (from­left) Joe Ricketts, Pete Ricketts, Todd Ricketts, Lau­raRick­etts, Mar­lene Ricketts and TomRick­etts.

Todd Ricketts sup­ported Wis­con­sin Gov. Scot­tWalker (above) for pres­i­dent, butWalker was the first Repub­li­can to drop out of the race.

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