Carol Felsenthal
On politics

The Cubs Finish First in Political Donations

The Ricketts family was much more politically active than their fellow MLB owners—except for CEO and active owner Tom, who stayed out of the fray.

Chicago Cubs Wrigley Field

Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune

The Sunlight Foundation is just out with a timely Opening Day list of political donations made in 2012 by major league baseball teams. The Chicago Cubs are assured of at least one first place perch this season as they take the top spot for dollars donated—$13.9 million—to mostly conservative political candidates and committees. 

When Rahm Emanuel next sees Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts—he is most involved with running the Cubs on a day-to-day basis, but owns the team with his siblings, Pete, Todd, and Laura—Tom will just have to hope that the Mayor understands that the righty donations come from the man who made the family much of its money, the Omaha billionaire, TD Ameritrade founder, and patriarch Joe Ricketts. (Joe is also the founder and CEO of DNAinfo.com, the hyper-local news organization, which is now up and running in Chicago.)

The Sunlight Foundation study’s author, Louis Serino, calls Joe Ricketts, who does not appear to have much if anything to do with running the Cubs, “The MVP of last election’s MLB donations.”

Chris Cillizza headlined his Washington Post take on the Sunlight study,  “How the Chicago Cubs dominated political giving,” and wrote that the Cubs’ $13.9 million is “roughly $4 million more than… the donations made by the other 29 [MLB] teams combined.” 

The total for all teams is around $24 million, so it’s obvious how clearly the Cubs dominate, at least on this score.

According to Cillizza, $12 million of the Cubs’ contributions came from Joe’s gift to the Super PAC Ending Spending Action Fund, for ads promoting smaller government. (The PAC was in the headlines in May 2012 when the New York Times broke the story that Joe was behind proposed but never implemented plans for an ad titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good” that would, among other things, tie the President to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Joe also gave money to the Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future. His total of $12.7 million also included donations to Wisconsin Republican governor Scott Walker to help fend off a recall, and $200,000 to help elect Deb Fischer, the new Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska who holds the seat just relinquished by Democrat Ben Nelson. Joe’s sons Todd and Peter gave to conservatives, Todd $200,000 and Peter $115,000. Joe’s daughter, Laura, a major Obama bundler ($500,000) gave $575,000 to Democratic candidates and PACs, including $185,000 to LPAC, which supports issues of interest to lesbians.

As far as I can tell, Tom Ricketts did not make donations in his own name, certainly a good thing as he and Emanuel continue to negotiate past the April 1 deadline Tom imposed on issues such as installation of a Jumbotron screen, interests of rooftop club owners, more night games and game-day street fairs, issues that currently impede the Ricketts family’s proposed privately $300 million funded—no taxpayer subsidies—renovation of Wrigley.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Serino notes that MLB teams tended to give to right-of-center causes: “more than 75 percent of contributions tied to teams went to conservative causes…. Ball clubs gave four times more to Republicans than Democrats….. [T]he Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers all… gave exclusively to the GOP.”  The Orioles, Twins, Dodgers, and Giants gave to Democrats.

Only four teams besides the Cubs gave more than $1 million—the Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers—and none of those reached the $2 million mark.

Serino also looks at Obama’s “beloved White Sox” and reports that the team gave “seven donations to the president, but they amounted to just $60,000.”  Romney received just $7,000 from the White Sox; included in this $7,000 is a donation from White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham. Up the road a bit, the Milwaukee Brewers gave a million in political contributions, all of it to conservatives, and writes Serino, “bigwigs here include [Chicagoan] John Canning, Jr.,” chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners.

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