TD Ameritrade (AMTD) has a problem.
The Omaha, Neb. financial services firm is taking flak in the wake of a New York Times article linking its founder J. Joseph Ricketts, to potential ads highlighting President Obama's connection to controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Flak on Twitter. Flak on Facebook. Flak in TD Ameritrade's call centers.
"There is confusion because he is the founder of the company," says Kim Hillyer, TD Ameritrade's director of communications and public affairs. "So there are people who have said because it's him we are, as a company, involved in this."
Ricketts, 70, is a wealthy conservative political donor who retired from TD Ameritrade's board of directors last October to focus on "entrepreneurship and philanthropy."
Such details don't always matter on social media sites like Twitter, of course, where a number of people have been mistakenly deriding TD Ameritrade, Hillyer says.
"@TDAmeritrade tweeted Joe Ricketts plan to smear the #POTUS [president of the United States] does not speak for them. WTH! He OWNS the company.#Occupy_TDAmeritrade," tweeted @smaxxmahaffey the day the news broke.
Banks have long run considerable risks related to the reputations of those who own and run them, analysts note. Think Drexel Burnham Lambert and Michael Milken. Goldman Sachs (GS) and Lloyd Blankfein after he made a comment about doing "God's work." And MF Global and its European speculator CEO Jon Corzine.
So far in the Ricketts affair, TD Bank has been only slightly grazed by the bad news. The bank operates about 1,280 branches in 15 U.S. states and Washington. It is a subsidiary of Canada's TD Bank Group (TD), which is also the largest shareholder in TD Ameritrade with a 45% share, followed by J Joseph Ricketts with 12%.
"We have seen some tweets but that's it," says TD Bank spokeswoman Rebecca Acevedo. "We haven't heard anything from customers or in our call center. We have seen some Twitter questions about whether we are the same company."
Like TD Ameritrade, the bank with the same two initial initials is distancing itself from Ricketts.
Its message is clear: Ricketts' political dealings are his own affair and customers are welcome, regardless of political affiliation.