Political News

A massive Republican donor just copped to sending racist and Islamophobic emails

Posted February 7, 2019 1:57 p.m. EST

— You may not immediately recognize the name "Joe Ricketts." But you should -- he is the patriarch of one of the most influential (and wealthy) families in conservative politics. And he is also, apparently, the author of a slew of emails recently made public in which he condones and even expresses racist and Islamaphobic sentiments.

The emails, which were obtained by Splinter News, detail electronic correspondence sent and received by Ricketts during the 2012 election. There are loads of emails, but here's two, just to give you a sense for their contents.

"Christians and Jews can have a mutual respect for each other to create a civil society. As you know, Islam cannot do that. Therefore we cannot ever let Islam become a large part of our society. Muslims are naturally my (our) enemy due to their deep antagonism and bias against non-Muslims.""I tired of Political Correct, Multicultural and Diversity aspects of our culture."

Ricketts, who made a fortune as the founder of TD Ameritrade, also passed on a series of racist jokes in the emails and raised questions about whether then-President Barack Obama was born in the United States.

"I deeply regret and apologize for some of the exchanges I had in my emails," Ricketts said earlier this week in a statement posted on his personal web page. "Sometimes I received emails that I should have condemned. Other times I've said things that don't reflect my value system. I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong."

The Chicago Cubs, which Ricketts' family owns, were quick to distance themselves from his problems. Tom Ricketts, one of Joe's sons and the chairman of the Cubs, said that "the language and views expressed in those emails have no place in our society."

But the political world has been slower to react -- which is somewhat remarkable, given how deep the financial roots of the Ricketts family are sunk into not only the conservative movement but the Trump White House.

Pete Ricketts, another son of Joe, is the governor of Nebraska. Of his father's emails, Pete Ricketts told a local TV station, "my dad apologizes, deeply regrets those emails. He acknowledges he should have pushed back and responded more appropriately and there's no place in society for bigotry." (A quick check of the Omaha World Herald website Thursday reveals no news stories about the Ricketts controversy -- although there is a column on what Joe Ricketts' emails say about our digital age.)

Todd Ricketts, brother of Pete and a(nother) son of Joe, was initially President Donald Trump's pick to serve as deputy secretary of Commerce, but withdrew shortly after he was nominated -- citing an inability to untangle his complicated personal finances. In early 2018, however, Todd Ricketts was named the finance chairman at the Republican National Committee, taking over in the wake of a scandal that led casino magnate Steve Wynn to step aside.

Just days before the story of his father's emails broke, Todd Ricketts was named as the chief fundraiser for Trump's 2020 re-election race.

That's, in and of itself, is a fascinating story arc -- given that the Ricketts family was adamantly opposed to Trump's nomination. In the 2016 race, Joe Ricketts and his wife, Marlene, were major financial backers of then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's presidential bid and then, when Walker dropped out, of Sen. Ted Cruz's candidacy. So opposed to Trump were they that the couple spent more than $5 million to help fund an anti-Trump super PAC during the primary fight. (The Ricketts also finance a super PAC -- Ending Spending -- that spent more than $24 million in 2014 and an additional $16 million in 2016.)

Trump, as he does, called out the Ricketts for their efforts against him. "I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $'s against me," he tweeted in February 2016. "They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!"

In a sitdown with The Washington Post editorial board the following month, Trump expanded on that tweet:

"I'll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they're doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me. I mean, so am I allowed to say that? I'll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it's not properly run or that they haven't done a good job in the brokerage business lately."

Tom Ricketts responded to Trump's tweet, telling NBC Sports Chicago in 2016: "It's a little surreal when Donald Trump threatens your mom. ... We stand up for what we believe in. We support the causes that we think are important. That's what America should be. That's who we are."

How did that rift get healed? By money, of course! Joe and Marlene Ricketts donated $1 million to a super PAC supporting Trump in the 2016 general election.

Despite the large number of connections between the Ricketts and the Trump administration, neither the Republican National Committee (at least according to its website) or the White House has released any statement on the Joe Ricketts' emails or offered to return any donations made by Joe Ricketts.

Which is odd, no?