October 27, 2016
As two of America’s most hallowed fall traditions, the World Series and the presidential campaign, coincide this week, Major League Baseball (MLB) owners are going to bat for their favorite presidential and congressional candidates—and none may be more involved than the Ricketts family, owners of the National League champion Chicago Cubs.
The top executives—who are also owners—of 26 of the 29 U.S.-based MLB teams made at least one federal campaign contribution during the 2016 election cycle, including five who contributed to super PACs, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Overall this cycle, top MLB owner-executives have contributed more than $2.06 million dollars to campaign committees, PACs, super PACs, and joint fundraising committees (JFC) – committees that take in large contributions from big donors and then split them among candidates.
CREW also examined the political giving of a handful of well-known owners who are not the top executive of a team, finding nearly $1 million in additional contributions. Some MLB teams are controlled by ownership groups with large memberships, so the total political giving by baseball team owners is no doubt higher. CREW did not include the Toronto Blue Jays in its analysis, as the team is owned by a Canadian company, run by a Canadian citizen, and only Americans are permitted to give. Where a team is completely owned by an outside company, CREW looked at the giving of the company’s chairman.
Of the top executives, Robert Castellini of the Cincinnati Reds was the largest individual contributor. Mr. Castellini, who is regarded as one of the most influential and powerful people in the city of Cincinnati, made a total of $638,582 in political contributions in the 2016 cycle. Mr. Castellini donated $50,000 to a super PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) presidential campaign, $7,682 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise USA PAC, $150,000 to Our Principles, the anti-Trump Super PAC, $25,000 to Fighting for Ohio Fund, which supports Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), and $50,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, which is seeking to maintain the GOP majority in the House. He also gave to committees supporting Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) as well as JFCs backing Speakers of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos contributed the second most, doling out a total of $450,471 to candidates and committees, almost all of them Democratic. Last year, Mr. Angelos, a Baltimore power lawyer, gave a total of $272,000 to Draft Biden 2016, a super PAC formed to encourage Vice President Joe Biden to join the presidential race. The total made him the largest single donor to the super PAC. In June of this year he gave $8,571 to the Hillary Victory Fund JFC. He has also given to Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-MD) campaign committee and Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) and Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) campaigns for U.S. Senate.
Jeffrey Loria, the owner and CEO of the Miami Marlins, gave $125,000 in September 2016 to Trump Victory, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s JFC. Three other owner-executives also made six-figure donations to super PACs. Fred Wilpon, owner, CEO and Chairman of the New York Mets, gave $100,000 to America Leads, the super PAC behind Mets fan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s failed presidential campaign. Gov. Christie has previously said that if the Mets were ever to experience postseason glory he would be in the Wilpon box, “hugging everything in sight.” Ray Davis, co-owner of the Texas Rangers, gave $100,000 to Right to Rise USA, Jeb Bush’s super PAC, in April 2015. John Malone, CEO of Liberty Media, the investor group that owns the Atlanta Braves, contributed $100,000 to Unintimidated PAC, which supported the failed presidential bid of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).
Former NBA megastar and current part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers Magic Johnson is not a team executive, but is a major donor. Mr. Johnson gave a total sum of $255,400 this year – most of it going to committees backing Hillary Clinton, thanks to a $250,000 contribution to the Hillary Victory Fund JFC.
The Ricketts family, owners of the National League champion Chicago Cubs playing in the World Series this week, offer the most interesting portrait of MLB owner influence. Joe Ricketts, father of Cubs co-owner and chairman Tom Ricketts, made headlines this year by putting $1 million behind the Our Principles PAC, a super PAC that focused on preventing Donald Trump from capturing the Republican presidential nomination. Ultimately, he relented and last month announced he would support efforts to run ads against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the final weeks of the election. While Joe Ricketts is often closely associated with the Cubs, he does not technically have an ownership stake in the club, though his children do.
The giving of Ricketts family members who are owners highlights an ideological clash between Laura Ricketts, a co-owner and member of the team’s board of directors, and her brothers who are all also co-owners and board members. Laura Ricketts gave a total of $684,300 to various committees and PACs so far in the 2016 cycle. She gave a total of $483,000 to L PAC, a super PAC dedicated to supporting pro-LGBTQ candidates for office. She also contributed $27,600 to several Democratic candidates, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and the Senate campaigns of Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). Laura Ricketts also gave $100,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund, a JFC backing former Secretary of State Clinton’s run for president and several state Democratic committees.
Contrast this with the spending of her brothers, Todd and Tom Ricketts. Todd Ricketts kicked in $2,485 to Unintimidated PAC and more than $35,000 to numerous Republican candidates, including Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Robert Dold (R-IL). In many cases, the siblings funded candidates on opposite sides of the ballot. For example, Todd Ricketts gave $5,400 to the campaign committee of incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who is up against the state’s governor, Maggie Hassan (D), a recipient of $5,400 from sister Laura Ricketts. Similarly, while Laura Ricketts contributed $5,400 to Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s (D-IL) quest for Illinois’ Senate seat, Todd Ricketts has given the same amount to incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk’s (R-IL) JFC. Both Todd and Tom Ricketts also gave to the campaign of Joan McCarthy Lasonde (R-IL), who is challenging Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), another beneficiary of Laura Ricketts’ contributions.
The Ricketts family doesn’t just cheer from the political owners’ box. They also have a player on the field as brother Peter Ricketts, who is a co-owner and board member of the Cubs, is the current Republican governor of Nebraska. The governor, however, does not appear to have made any federal political contributions this cycle.
Both the baseball season and the presidential election season are entering the final innings, but the game’s not over yet. MLB owners still have time to put more money behind their favorite candidates.
Updated to reflect latest numbers as of 10/27/16.