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Spending millions to end spending

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Joe RickettsIronically, the super PAC named “Ending Spending Action Fund” may end up having the largest single donation to a super PAC. Records show Joe Ricketts, who built his fortune through Ameritrade, is trying to reduce spending by spending -- a lot.

Ricketts wrote a check for $5.48 million to the super PAC in September. That beats the $5 million checks written earlier in the cycle by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson and Harold Simmons  And it made up about half of the $11.3 million that Ricketts donated to Ending Spending last month alone.

The owner of the Chicago Cubs, Ricketts made unwanted headlines earlier this year when word leaked that he had been presented a plan to launch a racially-tinged campaign against fellow Chicagoan President Obama, a plan Ricketts quickly disavowed.  He has a long track record of political giving -- Sunlight's trackers Follow the Unlimited Money and Influence Explorer put his total at $13.9 million since 1990 -- but last month's donations move him into a new class of heavy hitters. 

That total, however, certainly understate's Ricketts' political influence. It does not include donations to Ending Spending Inc., the affiliated 501(c)4 organization, because it does not disclose donors. Ending Spending's most recent filings with the IRS, available via Guidestar, show the group a total of $2.3 million in contributions and grants in 2011. Federal tax law does not require political nonprofits to identify donors. However, J. Joe Ricketts is listed asthe director, chairman and CEO of Ending Spending, which has contributed $128,000 to the Ending Spending Action Fund in this cycle so far.

Most of Rickett's recent political donations that left a paper trail were to super PACs. Aside from the $12.7 million he gave to Ending Spending this cycle, he has also donated a half-million to Campaign for Primary Accountability and $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney.

Ricketts also spread his wealth among the Republican presidential field, giving the maximum primary contribution, $2,500, to: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, as well as the eventual nominee, Romney.

The donations fit with Ricketts' history of backing major GOP figures. In 2008, he gave $70,000 to the victory fund of that year's Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Two years ago, Ricketts donated $25,000 to the Boehner for Speaker Committee, which helped Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, displace then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Influence Explorer shows that  Ricketts has also been an influential donor to politicians in Nebraska, his home state. He gave $260,000 to the Nebraska Republican Party in 2006. Another $19,000 went toward the Nebraska governor’s race. Ricketts supported Gov. Dave Heineman in 2006, his first election after appointment.

Rickett’s website states that Ending Spending is modeled after his earlier political organization, Taxpayers Against Earmarks. The affiliated political spending entity, Ending Spending Fund, spent $1.15 million in the 2009-2010 cycle, according to Center for Responsive Politics. The House enacted an earmark prohibition in the House when the Republicans took control of the House. The Senate created a two-year earmark ban in 2011