Huelskamp draws opposition from Chicago Cubs and WWE owners

In this July 22, 2015, file photo, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, speaks during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

TOPEKA — A political ad airing on TV stations in Topeka and other parts of Kansas raises an interesting question: Why do the owners of the Chicago Cubs and World Wrestling Entertainment care about who represents western Kansas in Congress?

You wouldn’t immediately know that just from watching the ad, which criticizes U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp for getting thrown off the Agriculture Committee and endorses his Republican primary opponent, Great Bend physician Roger Marshall.

It’s only when you get to the end of the ad when, if you listen closely, you hear that something called the ESA Fund is responsible for the ad’s content.

The ESA Fund, formerly known as the Ending Spending Action Fund, describes itself as “an independent organization that proudly supports candidates regardless of party affiliation who favor enhancing free enterprise, reducing the size of government, and balancing our nation’s budget. We are also proud to strongly oppose those who do not.”

That’s as much information as you’ll find on the group’s website, and it’s an example of how difficult it can be for the average voter in the post-Citizens United election environment to really know who is behind the campaign messages they hear, and why.

According to the website, the ESA Fund is a conservative super PAC made up of a handful of billionaire investors and hedge fund managers that includes the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and the family that turned World Wrestling Entertainment into a multibillion dollar international entertainment business.

Specifically, Marlene Ricketts is listed as contributing $850,000 to the PAC this election cycle. She is the wife of T.D. Ameritrade founder J. Joseph Ricketts. In 2009, their son Tom Ricketts led a bid by the family to purchase the Cubs for an estimated $875 million.

Joseph and Marlene Ricketts, who live in Omaha, are also the parents of J. Peter “Pete” Ricketts, the Republican governor of Nebraska.

Another contributor to the ESA Fund is Linda McMahon of Greenwich, Conn., who, along with her husband Vince McMahon, founded a small regional pro wrestling promotion company in 1980 and built it into the WWE, which is now a multibillion dollar entertainment behemoth. She served as CEO of the enterprise until stepping down in 2009 to run for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. She was the Republican nominee in 2010 and 2012, losing both times to Democratic candidates.

The largest donor to the ESA Fund is billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer of New York, who Forbes magazine estimates has a net worth of $2.2 billion. Singer is also a major contributor to the American Unity PAC, which supports pro-gay rights candidates.

Other contributors include hedge fund managers Kenneth C. Griffin of Chicago and William Powers of Florida.

So far this election cycle, the ESA Fund has spent about $2.6 million in various campaigns, much of it for Republican candidates and against Democratic candidates.

But nearly half of that money, $1.1 million, has been spent opposing U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire.
And a small amount, $319,748, has been spent opposing Huelskamp, with $64,717 going to support Marshall, his opponent.

At this point, it’s difficult to see why the 1st District race in Kansas would have any particular importance to billionaire investors in Omaha, Chicago, New York or Florida, or why, out of the hundreds of races happening this year for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor’s offices, they chose to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in western Kansas.

Perhaps we’ll have to wait until after the election to find out.