Chicago investor Thane Ritchie and former Minnesota U.S. Senator Dean Barkley are making noise about starting a third political party in Illinois “and ultimately nationally,” according to a Monday news release.
Barkley, of course, is well-known as an architect of Jesse Ventura’s 1998 gubernatorial win, while Ritchie lost tens of millions betting on Tom Petters. But more recently, Barkley has been the lawyer for Ritchie’s “Stop the Petters Scam” Foundation in a bogus, dangerous Hennepin County District Court lawsuit against the Star Tribune.
Displaying a paranoia Ross Perot could appreciate, and a conspiracy theory Ventura would applaud, Barkley and Ritchie have tried to subpoena U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and ex-Sen. Norm Coleman among other “powerful interests” to see if they influenced the Strib’s decision to cancel a 16-part Foundation ad series. The ads ripped the courts and politicians for not letting Ritchie recoup more of the money he lost on Petters, who has since been convicted on 20 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering.
The suit’s more operatic claims involve the First Amendment, even though the government wasn’t involved and Ritchie’s ad firm had a faxed contract reiterating the Strib’s longstanding right to cancel advocacy ads for any reason. The paper insists the cancellation decision was strictly an internal one, noting it didn’t want to spend the time vetting the ads’ claims.
The paper refunded all $62,464.90 for the series (even though nine ads ran), so Strib lawyers say there are no actual damages. Legal experts add that the Foundation’s claims of reputational damages are immaterial without defamatory statements the Strib hasn’t made.
In other words, the lawsuit could well be pound-of-flesh-stuff by a guy with lots of money who wants to hurt a not-exactly flush opponent. Just like politics! Great for the ego, not so much for a free press, but what the heck, media-bashing has often been a successful strategy. Still, the national press and public should know how these guys roll.
Speaking of disclosure: The Strib’s initial web story on Barkley’s and Ritchie’s political ambitions should have mentioned the suit against the paper.