January 18, 2017
On November 30, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts to be Deputy Commerce Secretary, a position that requires Senate confirmation. Ricketts, one of the handful of Trump nominees who are also major political donors, reportedly raised at least $30 million for two pro-Trump groups before Election Day.
Since 2013, Ricketts has run two other political groups: ESAFund, a super PAC that spent more than $15 million on independent expenditures in the 2016 cycle, and Ending Spending, a dark money group that spent more than $2.6 million on independent expenditures in the 2016 cycle. As a section 501(c)(4) non-profit, Ending Spending is not required to disclose its donors.
In the weeks since Ricketts’ nomination, the two big money organizations have sought to erase their presence from the Internet, deleting most of the content of their websites and removing videos from YouTube. The websites for the two groups now say they are “under construction”:
Most of the content of the two websites has also been taken offline, including Todd Ricketts’ biography on the dark money group’s website (see a saved version here). Videos on the YouTube pages of both groups, which used to host numerous political ads, have also been taken down.
It’s unclear exactly when Ending Spending and ESAFund began scrubbing their web presences, but it definitely happened after President-elect Trump announced his choice of Ricketts for the Department of Commerce. The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine’s most recent screen capture of the ESAFund website was on December 6 while Ending Spending’s website was functioning as recently December 27. The websites were not yet “under construction” at those points.
It’s also unclear why the websites suddenly disappeared. The team at Ending Spending and ESAFund may be trying to make it more difficult for critics to use content from the two organizations against Ricketts when he faces the Senate confirmation process. One progressive group, Allied Progress, has already announced plans to challenge Ricketts’ nomination as well as other Trump nominees the group says “represent the Wall Street insiders and billionaire class that candidate Trump attacked relentlessly throughout the campaign.”
ESAFund and Ending Spending’s website themselves do not offer an explanation for the sudden disappearance, simply saying that after “six years” of political and policy efforts, they are “working to rebuild this website.”