Kim Hillyer, director of communications and public affairs for TD Ameritrade , did not mince words about the pickle in which her company now finds itself, thanks to the founder and former CEO of the company Joe Ricketts.
"It's certainly a difficult situation," said Hillyer, referring to the calls from clients and members of the public prompted by today's news, first reported by the The New York Times , about Ricketts' interest in launching a Super PAC to attack President Obama. "We respect the right of people to have their opinions, but as a company we can't take sides. Really what we're about is helping our clients, that's the message we're telling people today."
The campaign garnered considerable attention today because of a pitch to Ricketts and his Ending Spending Action Fund that suggested an attack on the president based on the comments of his former religious and spiritual leader, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., an attack the campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., refused to do because of the racial animus it might conjure forth. Both the Romney and McCain camps disavowed the proposal.
Ricketts, a billionaire ranked on the Forbes 400 List in 2009 , retired from the TD Ameritrade board last fall, but he remains publicly identified with the company as its founder, with his family the largest individual shareholders, owning approximately 15% of the company. The company is an online broker based in Omaha, Nebraska.
Says Hillyer, "Obviously he is the founder of the company, but his thoughts, opinions and activities are not those of TD Ameritrade. His political work is independent from any involvement with the company."
The Super PAC he is funding has stated its intent to spend at least $10 million on its activities. Last month, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission , Ricketts sold 521,988 share of common stock in the company for $20.04 Per Share - worth $10.46 million.
So does it bother TD Ameritrade that he appears to be cashing in TD Ameritrade stock to run this campaign?
"We have many shareholders and we can't legislate what people do with their money," Hillyer said.
Hillyer wanted to make sure that a reporter had seen the statement from Brian Baker, president of the Ending Spending Action Fund , noting that Ricketts is "neither the author nor the funder of the so-called 'Ricketts Plan' to defeat Mr. Obama that The New York Times wrote about this morning. Not only was this plan merely a proposal - one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors - but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take. Mr. Ricketts intends to work hard to help elect a President this fall who shares his commitment to economic responsibility, but his efforts are and will continue to be focused entirely on questions of fiscal policy, not attacks that seek to divide us socially or culturally."
"His political activities are not those of the company," Hillyer said again.