Super Donor Profiles

Published — October 23, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Donor profile: Joe Ricketts

Quick stats on the biggest financial backers of Election 2012


Ranking: 5

Total contributions to super PACs: $13.1 million*

Notable federal hard money and 527 contributions:

  • $15,500 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (2012)
  • $2,500 to Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2011)
  • $2,500 to Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (2011)
  • $100,000 to Citizens Club for Growth (2006)

Notable state-level contributions (see here):

  • $260,000 to Nebraska Republican Party (2006)
  • $19,000 to Nebraska Republican Gov. Dave Heineman and Lt. Gov. Ricky Sheehy (2006)

Corporate name: Hugo Enterprises / TD Ameritrade

Total spent on federal lobbying (2007-2012): $440,000

Lobbying issues: Securities and investments

Family: Wife Marlene, sons Todd, Tom and Peter and daughter Laura


Online brokerage billionaire and owner John “Joe” Ricketts became a top 10 super donor thanks to a major September spending spree. Ricketts dumped roughly $12.5 million into Ending Spending Action Fund — the super PAC he created to back fiscally conservative candidates.

Ricketts came under attack in May after the New York Times leaked “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama,” a 54-page proposal submitted to Ricketts’ super PAC that would link the president to his provocative former minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Ricketts pledged to spend $10 million on advertising to defeat Obama and $2 million to bankroll Republicans in congressional races, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In 1975, Ricketts founded Omaha First Securities, a small investment banking firm, which has since morphed — through four decades of mergers and acquisitions — into TD Ameritrade, Inc., the world’s largest online brokerage. Though he retired from Ameritrade’s board in 2011, Ricketts still owns roughly 9.5 percent of the company, while his wife of 40 years, Marlene, holds an additional 2.5 percent, according to Forbes magazine.

The Ricketts family also holds a 95 percent controlling interest in the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, which it acquired in 2009 through a family trust. Tom Ricketts, Joe and Marlene’s eldest son, serves as the team’s chairman, and the other three children — Laura, Peter and Todd — also sit on its board.

In addition to a financial services giant and a Major League Baseball team, Ricketts’ ventures include a bison meat distribution company in Wyoming and a hyper-local online newspaper in New York City. Ricketts made the 2009 Forbes 400 List of billionaires, coming in 371st place.

Ending Spending has spent nearly $12 million — the lion’s share of its $15 million in independent expenditures this election cycle — attacking the president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In one effort, the group released a series of 30-second spots titled “Why I Changed My Vote,” that feature seeming disappointed 2008 Obama supporters.

But not all of the Ricketts clan is dissatisfied with the Obama administration.

Laura Ricketts — the family’s openly gay daughter and Cubs co-owner who launched a pro-lesbian super PAC in July — is one of the president’s top bundlers. The younger Ricketts raked in roughly $500,000 for Obama’s campaign committee this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. She personally donated to two Democratic-aligned super PACs: $242,500 to LPAC, which is dedicated to “giving lesbians a meaningful seat at the political table,” and $200,000 to Women Vote!, which is associated with EMILY’s List and backs Democrats who support abortion rights.

Last updated: Jan. 30, 2013

*2011-2012 election cycle. Source: Center for Responsive Politics and Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records. Totals include contributions from individuals, family members and corporations that are controlled by the individual super donor.

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