One of the most powerful rich families in American politics just got their son in the Senate

One of the most powerful rich families in American politics just got their son in the Senate
Former Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will be joining the US Senate.Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
  • Former Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will be joining the US Senate.
  • Ricketts' family owns the Chicago Cubs and has broadly supported conservative causes.

Former Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will be joining the US Senate, an appointment that caps his political comeback and cements his family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, as one of the most powerful forces in American politics.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Jim Pillen announced that Ricketts was his pick to replace former Sen. Ben Sasse, who left the chamber to lead the University of Florida. Ricketts will serve until 2024 when he will face Nebraskans in a special election to finish out the remainder of Sasse's term. Ricketts pledged to run for a full term in 2026 as well. Sen. Deb Fischer, a two-term Republican incumbent and loyal ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is also up for reelection then too.

Along with owning the Cubs, the Ricketts family has long been among the biggest funders of Republican campaigns.

Joe Ricketts, the founder of what is now TD Ameritrade, donated at least $1 million to Trump after opposing him in the GOP primary. Before their rapprochement, Trump threatened the family by saying, "They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!" Todd Ricketts, one of the governor's brothers, was later named finance chair for the Republican National Committee. Laura Ricketts, the governor's sister, is the one major exception to the family's largely conservative views. She is a major Democratic donor and was a bundler for former President Barack Obama.

As governor, Ricketts used his status as a multi-millionaire to buck up his policies and punish those who crossed him. His most successful endeavor was pushing for the state to bring back the death penalty after the Nebraska legislature overrode Ricketts' veto to end the death penalty. BuzzFeed estimated that Ricketts and his family spent over $400,000 on a ballot initiative to restore the death penalty that was ultimately successful.


"Supporting candidates is a manner of free speech. Can you have too much free speech?," Ricketts said in a recent interview with the Omaha World-Herald when asked about his strategy. "I'm exercising my free speech rights. Every American should be able to do that."

Ricketts was instrumental in Pillen's comeback to win the Nebraska gubernatorial primary over the Trump-backed Charles Herbster. Former President Donald Trump lashed out at Ricketts as a "RINO" for crossing him in the primary. McConnell also made it clear that he wanted Ricketts to replace Sasse, making Thursday's announcement one of the worst-kept secrets in Nebraska. Pillen denied that there was anything untoward about his selection of Ricketts.

Then-Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson drubbed Ricketts in 2006, a rough start to his political career. Ricketts then founded a conservative think-tank, his family purchased the Cubs, and then the Nebraskan rebranded himself as a "very bold and very bald conservative" before winning the governorship in 2014. He was term-limited out of office, leaving his political future uncertain before his appointment.

Pillen told reporters that he interviewed nine people for the job before selecting Ricketts. None of the nine were Democrats. Of the remaining list, the most well-known are former State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, who Pillen also beat in the gubernatorial primary, and Sid Dinsdale, who lost to Sasse and other hopefuls in the 2014 US Senate primary.