LINCOLN — The top gun in Nebraska politics saw a financial opportunity in a company that markets the skills of former fighter pilots.
Tactical Air Support Inc., which has an office in Omaha, supplies aviators and aircraft to play the role of the enemy in training missions with U.S. military squadrons. Rather than maintaining a separate fleet of adversarial aircraft and pilots, the Pentagon finds it easier to buy “red air.”
Gov. Pete Ricketts held the investment — and more than 100 others — through his first term in office. Despite the complexity and breadth of the governor’s investment portfolio, a state ethics commission says the governor’s stakes in things like red air have so far raised no red flags.
The former TD Ameritrade executive and current co-owner of the Chicago Cubs disclosed the investments in a statement of financial interests submitted earlier this year to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. State law requires the statements as a way to help regulators detect potential conflicts of interest among elected officials.
The governor’s disclosure filing doesn’t reveal income from his investments, but in an interview last week, Ricketts put his net worth at “roughly $50 million.” That’s about the same number he listed on federal disclosure forms filed in 2006 during an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.
Politicians with massive personal fortunes are nothing new, especially in the halls of Congress. While the governor’s mansion in Nebraska has had wealthy occupants before, none in recent history have possessed the wealth of the man currently seeking a second term for an elected position that pays $105,000 per year.
Although some politicians choose to put their holdings in blind trusts to shield themselves from potential conflicts, Ricketts has opted to maintain control of his investments. He argued Nebraska’s disclosure requirements provide an objective monitor.
“If people are looking for a conflict of interest, we’ve published all of our investments,” he said. “We’re transparent. People can see what I’m invested in.”
No question, the governor’s disclosure statement is extensive. It fills 15 pages, listing investments in private equity firms, public and private stocks, exchange traded funds, mutual funds, municipal bonds and family trusts. It also lists six banks where the governor maintains checking or savings accounts or certificates of deposit.
The governor’s holdings range from the pedestrian (his state retirement fund) to the far out (a holding company for commercial space exploration).
Counted individually, the investments number about 140, most of which he has owned since before his election in 2014. That includes the fighter pilot company, although he mentioned that it was bought out since he disclosed it in March.
Finally, the statement also lists his status as a board member with eight nonprofit organizations.
“My priority is being governor, but to the extent I can help out nonprofits, I still want to do that,” he said.
The information contained in the forms doesn’t reveal how much he’s invested in each holding or whether it has resulted in a profit or a loss. The form also doesn’t require him to list his family home in Omaha, which is valued at $1.1 million by the Douglas County Assessor’s Office.
State law requires the governor and all other elected officials to make such disclosures on an annual basis. In addition, the law requires elected officials to notify the accountability commission before taking actions that could result in a benefit or loss to themselves, their immediate family members or a business with which they are associated. That includes nonprofit organizations.
During his first term in office, Ricketts has submitted no conflict-of-interest filings. While third parties can file conflict-of-interest complaints against an official, even the existence of complaints remains confidential unless the accountability commission determines a violation has occurred.
The commission has made no such determinations involving the governor, said Frank Daley, executive director of the commission.
Ricketts is the oldest child of Joe Ricketts, the founder of discount stock broker TD Ameritrade. The elder Ricketts, with a net worth of about $2.2 billion, is ranked No. 354 on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
Since 2009, the governor, his two brothers and sister have been the majority owners of the Chicago Cubs. The storied Major League Baseball franchise had gone more than a century without winning a championship until breaking the losing streak in 2016 under the Ricketts’ ownership.
Jeff Sharp said the governor’s holdings look fairly routine for a wealthy investor. Sharp is an asset management principal with the SilverStone Group in Omaha. “This is all very typical stuff we see high-net worth individuals do.”
Some governors in other states with substantially more personal assets than Ricketts have chosen to put their holdings in what are called blind trusts. The trusts are managed by a third party as a way to insulate an elected official from potential conflicts.
Ricketts said he opted against setting up a blind trust, choosing instead to continue calling his own shots while disclosing his investments.
The governor said most of his wealth is associated with the Cubs and TD Ameritrade stock. The governor gave up his role with the Omaha-based online brokerage company before he took office. He also said he no longer evaluates and invests in startup companies .
But he does maintain an active role with the Cubs. He’s on the board of directors for the team and its charitable foundation.
Ricketts also serves on the boards for two companies spun off of the Cubs, which have developed real estate outside of Wrigley Field and offered events — such as concerts — inside the park.
The governor said he might spend 45 minutes to an hour each week on the phone with his siblings on baseball business. But brother Tom Ricketts is in charge of day-to-day operations of the Cubs.
Whatever the family is doing, it’s working . They spent $700 million to purchase the team in 2009. This year, according to Forbes, it’s worth an estimated $2.9 billion.