Joe Ricketts and the war on message
A funny corollary to the rise of corporate-backed super PACs is that they have, at times, been enormously inconvenient for political campaigns wishing to spoon-feed narratives to the media.
The knock against super PACs was, and is, that they're allowed to do almost anything without being held accountable. In the context of the current presidential contest this means that Mitt Romney's campaign, in particular, can sit back and profit from dirty work underwritten by mysterious conservatives in Kansas or Texas, all while marshaling its own money for a less controversial operation.
This is not inaccurate. But today also showed, once again, that it's more complicated than that. A cycle that should have been a good one for Romney—his campaign had process-based red meat for the campaign press, in the form of news that his campaign had raised $40 million in April, just about matching Barack Obama's total—was instead dominated by a New York Times report on a proposed $10 million attack-ad campaign based on the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Which for what it's worth was probably a silly plan anyway. America has seen the Wright show before. As Rick Wilson, the operative who made the Wright-based attack ad in the last cycle, told Ben Smith today, that whole Obama-Wright storyline is already "baked in the cake."
Romney scrambled, and quickly issued a denunciation of the proposed ad campaign (notwithstanding the fact that he recently brought up Wright in discussing Obama) and Joe Ricketts, the very conservative founder of Ameritrade and DNAInfo who was reportedly prepared to underwrite it, followed suit.
Romney's fund-raising was a distant afterthought.