Pro-Trump super PAC weighs in on midterms

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Donald Trump shakes hands with Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In the second half of October 2018, folks in California, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York saw ads directed against Democrats courtesy of a super PAC called 
Future45. The ads targeted Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

It is not surprising that a super PAC would buy ad-space in the runup to a midterm election. What is a little unusual is that a super PAC whose name refers specifically to a presidential election would target members of Congress.

Future45 played its role in electing Donald Trump as the 45th president, but it did not immediately embrace Trump when he won the nomination. After Trump’s last primary opponent dropped out of the race, the super PAC went dormant for months.

That all changed when Todd Ricketts assumed control of the organization, revamping it into a vehicle to elect Trump to the presidency. In spring of that year, Ron Weiser, previously Future45’s finance chair, left to work for Trump as the vice chair of a fundraising committee. Ricketts himself became Republican committee finance chair in January 2018.

Ricketts has also been tied to an associated group called 45Committee, which is not required to reveal its donors thanks to its 501(c)(4) nonprofit status. Ricketts has used 45Committee’s capacity to allow contributors to remain anonymous as a selling point for donors who want to support the president but who prefer not to associate themselves with the Trump brand. 45Committee has spent $1.3 million in the 2018 election cycle.

The foundation of the Ricketts family fortune is TD Ameritrade, founded by Joe Ricketts, Todd’s father. Todd’s brother, Pete Ricketts, is governor of Nebraska. The family owns the Chicago Cubs.

Despite his previous opposition to Trump, Todd Ricketts gave around $1 million of his own money to Future45 in the 2016 cycle out of $25 million raised and spent. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave over $20 million, and Linda McMahon gave $200,000.

The Adelsons are well-known megadonors in Republican circles. In 2018, they have contributed more than $100 million to influence federal elections, all of it to Republicans. They gave more than twice as much as the Thomas Steyer-backed group who occupies the second-place slot and who gave exclusively to Democrats.

McMahon co-founded World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) with her husband, Vince McMahon. There, she worked on lucrative licensing deals. Sports Illustrated has said McMahon was “the most impactful force in the growth of the professional wrestling industry.”

Before founding WWE, the McMahons filed for bankruptcy in 1976 thanks to unpaid federal taxes, a rigged Muhammed Ali fight in Toyko and a botched Evel Knievel stunt.

McMahon ran for Senate in 2010 and 2012 and now serves on President Trump’s cabinet as the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Association.

Other Future45 donors include Ken Griffin and Paul Singer, who each contributed $250,000 in 2016. Griffin is CEO and founder of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel, which he has run since 1990. (Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve, is a senior advisor at Citadel.) Griffin is worth roughly $9.9 billion and has donated $700 million of his fortune to recipients including the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago.

In 2017, Forbes listed Griffin as the 52nd wealthiest person in America and the wealthiest person in Illinois.

Paul Singer is an infamous investor, known for targeting companies which he believes have problems, buying stock in those companies, and then using that new leverage to address the firm’s issues. Bloomberg called him “the world’s most feared investor.” He founded the hedge fund Elliott Management in 1977.

Singer is also a prolific contributor to pro-Israel groups and has a history of backing pro-LGBT rights groups.

In 2016, Future45 spent over $23 million on media. They paid $17 million for services to a company called Del Cielo Media and gave $50,000 to the American Uprising PAC.

In the 2018 midterms, despite being ostensibly focused on the executive branch, Future45 has spent more than $4.5 million. Paul Singer and Charles Schwab both kicked in $1 million of that. Helen Schwab, Charles’s wife, also gave $1 million. The rest of the money came from the Ricketts family.

An ad run by Future45 on Oct. 16 asserts that voting for Democrats will cause “…undefended open borders. Immediate tax increases. 100 percent government-run health care. The booming economy, stopped. Nancy Pelosi, back in power. Gridlock. And then, impeachment.”

The content of the ad was rated “pants on fire” by Politifact, which reported that no major Democratic candidates were running on an “open border” platform or for a full government takeover of the healthcare system.

“Future45 is an independent organization devoted to educating voters about the challenges facing our country,” the Future45 website says. “Future45 knows that America’s best days are ahead and we stand with The Trump/Pence Administration and those in Congress who are restoring conservative leadership in Washington.”

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