Joe Ricketts

TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts in 1995. Ricketts retired from the board of directors in 2011 but still has a big stake in the company.

The head of the hedge fund that took a large stake in Cabela’s and pressed for big changes — leading to its proposed sale to Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops — has given nearly $4 million to a political action committee headed by Joe Ricketts, TD Ameritrade founder. And Paul Singer, head of the New York-based Elliott Management hedge fund, is good friends with Ricketts.

All of which has led to a question that has been running about Nebraska investing and finance circles for more than a year: Is Ricketts, father of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, an investor in Elliott Management?

“I don’t hire other people to manage my money,” the TD Ameritrade founder said in an interview with The World-Herald.

Elliott Management is one of the most successful Wall Street partnerships, a $28 billion fund around since 1977 that is up 6 percent so far this year, according to CNBC,

which cited an unnamed investor in August. The company will have earned about $200 million from its Cabela’s stake by the time Bass Pro’s buyout at $65.50 a share is over next year.

Given the friendship and political bonhomie between Ricketts and Singer, it has left people wondering if it is possible that Ricketts — a billionaire via TD Ameritrade — might have made money from the Cabela’s buyout that will likely cost hundreds or thousands of Nebraska jobs from the elimination of duplicate departments by Bass Pro.

“Paul Singer is a very good friend,” Joe Ricketts acknowledged. “But entrepreneurial families such as ours don’t tend to gravitate toward professional investors, we tend to gravitate to our own endeavors. I think that answers the question.”

Ricketts owns a 60 million-share stake in TD Ameritrade worth about $2 billion. The family also owns the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball, bought for about $900 million in 2009. Joe Ricketts also owns meat supplier High Plains Bison; a Chicago and New York neighborhood-hyperlocal news outlet called DNAInfo.com; a movie production company called American Film; and the Jackson Fork Lodge hunting and fishing destination in Wyoming, where the average night goes for about $1,300.

A fly fisherman himself, Ricketts said he is no fan of what has happened to Cabela’s, a Nebraska born-and-bred outdoor retailer with 85 stores nationwide that analysts say expanded too fast and got targeted by Elliott’s brand of activist investing, which identifies underperforming companies with an eye toward agitating for a buyout or other action to raise the share price.

“It is a wonderful company,” Ricketts said. “Like everyone, I’m disappointed that it seems Cabela’s isn’t going to be part of Nebraska like before.”

Singer gave at least $3.7 million over the past three years to the ESAFund, Federal Elections Commission records show. The fund was known formerly as the Ending Spending Action Fund, and is the political action committee founded by Joe Ricketts. The fund advocates reducing federal spending and the size of the federal government, among other things.

World-Herald staff writer Paige Yowell contributed to this report.

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