Influence Peddler of the Month – Marlene Ricketts

March 1, 2019

Marlene Ricketts lives in Omaha, Neb., but she is throwing some of her money around in Wisconsin. In fact, she is tied for first for making the single largest campaign contribution in Wisconsin in 2018.

Ricketts, who owns the Chicago Cubs with her husband, was one of only two people to write a $1 million check to the Republican Party of Wisconsin last year. The other was Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks.

All told, Ricketts contributed $1,030,000 in the 2017-18 election cycle in Wisconsin, including $1,010,000 to the state GOP and $20,000 to former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Only Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, of Lake Forest, Ill., were bigger out-of-state contributors than Ricketts at more than $1.6 million in 2017-18, according to a preliminary review of campaign records by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

These huge contributions by millionaires and billionaires to the state GOP were made possible by sweeping changes to state campaign finance laws in 2015 by the GOP-controlled legislature and Walker. Under the old rules, the most anyone could give a party was $10,000. Now, the sky is the limit.

Ricketts’ previous contributions in Wisconsin totaled $105,000 in 2013 and 2014 – again to Walker and the state GOP. Her husband, Joe, contributed $110,171 in 2012, 2013, and 2017 to Walker’s recall and reelection campaigns.

Joe Ricketts founded the online stock trading and investing service T.D. Ameritrade. The couple is worth an estimated $2.5 billion. Most of their charitable giving is through their arts, education, and conservation foundations.

The couple have four children, including J. Peter Ricketts, who is the Republican governor of Nebraska, and Laura Ricketts, a gay rights activist and fundraiser for former Democratic President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In addition to her interest in Badger State politics, Marlene Ricketts is a prolific contributor to federal candidates and committees around the country. In 2017-18, she doled out more than $4 million to federal GOP candidates and committees. And during the four-year 2016 presidential election cycle she contributed more than $21 million to federal Republican candidates and fundraising committees.

Marlene Ricketts came out early and strongly against Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. She contributed $3 million to Our Principles Political Action Committee. The Super PAC attacked Trump with negative ads and mailings before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries. But the couple ended up supporting Trump when he became the GOP presidential nominee.

The couple’s early on favorite in the 2016 presidential contest was Walker. The Ricketts were among the largest donors behind Walker’s short-lived presidential bid, giving $5 million to Walker’s Super PAC, Unintimidated.

During Wisconsin’s 2012 recall race for governor, a state political action committee called Ending Spending Action Fund Wisconsin spent $245,000 to support Walker, who won the recall. The state PAC was part of a larger national group called Ending Spending Action Fund, a Super PAC created by Joe Ricketts in 2010 to support GOP and conservative candidates for state and federal offices. It spent about $10 million to oppose Obama’s reelection in 2012.