Pete Ricketts’ Corrupt Bargain

Dennis Crawford
3 min readDec 19, 2022
Ricketts and his family have turned Nebraska into a fiefdom with their vast personal fortune.

Pete Ricketts and his family have dominated Nebraska politics since 2014 due to their immense wealth and hefty political contributions. They have contributed over $10 million to political candidates and right wing causes. This has stressed the separation of powers and is a threat to democracy. The Ricketts family’s billions have simply made Pete Ricketts too powerful.

“We’ve never had a sitting governor with a pocketbook this big and the willingness to use it for his own political advantage,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

In the 2022 cycle Ricketts and his family spent at least $3.8 million. At the very least, Ricketts elected a new UNL Regent and the next governor of Nebraska.

Pete Ricketts personally contributed $100,000 to Jim Pillen’s campaign and spent another $1,275,000 through his Conservative Nebraska Pac to oppose other Republican candidates in that race. Ricketts’ spending destroyed both Chuck Herbster and Brett Lindstrom in the GOP primary. As a result, Jim Pillen was able to win the GOP primary with as little as 36% of the vote. Pillen wouldn’t be governor in the absence of Ricketts’ generous contributions.

Ben Sasse’s resignation from the Senate now opens up a Senate seat for Pillen to fill. Ricketts is the odds on favorite to grab the seat. Pillen has approximately $1.3 million reasons to select Ricketts. The application process is a sham.

The Lincoln Journal Star blasted the application process: “That said the optics of the near-certain Ricketts appointment don’t look optimal…Those contributions led Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb to label the appointment “the state’s most obvious pay-to-play case.”…Ricketts’ appointment has been criticized, even by some rank-and-file Republicans, as “tawdry” and inappropriate.”

“It looks bad. It smells bad. What it looks like is two rich guys using their money and power to grab a Senate seat,” said Jeremy Aspen, an Omaha Republican and former state party delegate. “This is how authoritarian countries operate, where a powerful few ride roughshod to get what they want. Things like this stay on voters’ minds.”

“This has the feeling of the fix being in so that they don’t have to really face the voters. It seems that they’re avoiding, as much as possible, a fair fight,” Ryan Horn a GOP consultant said. “The way this is being done is cynical, and cynicism is a mortal threat to democracy.”

“Nothing about the governor’s actions is illegal. He has the right to use his own personal resources as he deems best, but isn’t it at least unethical for the sitting governor to use that wealth to enhance his power as governor beyond what is allowed under the Constitution? Isn’t it overreaching? Don’t Nebraskans deserve to know what an elected official is doing to influence other officials beyond the bounds the constitutional limits of his or her office? The answers to these questions seem clear. Otherwise, the risk is that the state will continue to be governed as a fiefdom by those who have the resources to do so.” Kerry Winterer, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services from 2009 through 2017.

Pillen should appoint somebody as a placeholder to occupy the Senate seat until 2024. Former Congressman Lee Terry would be a good choice. That would require Ricketts to actually earn the seat in 2024.

Once Ricketts is appointed to the Senate, he will undoubtedly be a vote for the GOP’s radical agenda. He will join his fellow Republicans in shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt — all in an effort to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare. He will also join a push for a national abortion ban. I doubt many Nebraskans approve of this far right agenda. Nor are they being asked. Pillen and Ricketts will just ram it down our throats.

Two U.S. Senate seats will be up in Nebraska in 2024. Ricketts will face the voters and Fischer may run for re-election. I’m hearing rumors that Fischer may retire. We have our work cut out for us. Now let’s get it done!

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Dennis Crawford

I’m an aspiring historian, defender of democracy and a sports fan.