John Joseph Ricketts was born and raised in Nebraska City, Nebraska, the son of Florence M. (Erhart) and Donavon Platte Ricketts. He obtained a bachelor's degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska in 1968. Ricketts is married to Marlene Margaret (Volkmer), with whom he has four children, Thomas, Pete, Laura, and Todd, who were raised Roman Catholic. He currently resides in Little Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
In 1975, John Joseph Ricketts and a few partners formed First Omaha Securities, a Retail securities brokerage firm that through mergers and acquisitions grew into TD Ameritrade. Ricketts retired from the TD Ameritrade board in October 2011 to concentrate on entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
Ricketts served on the board of trustees of the American Enterprise Institute from 1999 to 2007. His son, Pete Ricketts, is a member of the Republican National Committee and was elected governor of Nebraska in 2014. His daughter, Laura Ricketts, is a gay rights Activist and prominent bundler for Barack Obama. Another son, Todd Ricketts, was named CEO of Ending Spending in 2013.
In 2004, John Joseph Ricketts founded High Plains Bison, a retailer of natural bison meat. In addition to online and offline sales channels, High Plains Bison is the official bison vendor at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Some of the bison are raised on a Wyoming ranch owned by Ricketts. A four-bedroom lodge named The Lodge at Jackson Fort Ranch is located on the same property.
In October 2009, the Ricketts family acquired a 95 percent controlling interest in Major League Baseball's Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, as well as 20% of Comcast Sportsnet Chicago. The Ricketts family represents the eighth ownership group in the 133-year history of the team. While Ricketts is not directly involved in the team's operations, his son, Tom Ricketts, is Cubs chairman and his three other children (Pete, Laura and Todd) are on the board of Directors. In November 2010, the Cubs announced a plan to seek $200 million in state-backed bonds for renovations to Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the 2016 World Series, giving Ricketts (and family) a championship.
Ricketts established and funded The Ending Spending Fund, a political action committee, in 2010. The Ending Spending Fund spent over $1 million sponsoring independent advertisements in several Congressional races. The goal of the advertising expenditure was to highlight incumbents’ earmark-related policies. The Ending Spending Fund spent the largest amount of its money on the United States Senate election in Nevada, 2010 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Although not required by law, Ricketts willingly disclosed his identity due to his belief in transparency.
On May 17, 2012, The New York Times published a story by Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg reporting that The Ending Spending Action fund had been presented with a 54-page proposal entitled, "The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: the Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good." According to the Times, the proposal, written by a vendor seeking to be hired by Ending Spending, suggested a $10-million ad campaign to "attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away" and called for "running commercials linking Mr. Obama to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright." The report came to light when an unidentified person, who was not connected to the proposal, leaked it to The New York Times. The President of the Ending Spending Action Fund said that the pitch was a "nonstarter" and issued the following statement repudiating the proposal: "Not only was this plan merely a proposal—one of several submitted to the Ending Spending Action Fund by third-party vendors—but it reflects an approach to politics that Mr. Ricketts rejects and it was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take."
On September 26, 2013, Louisiana College President Joe W. Aguillard presented Ricketts and his brother, Jim, with two of three Trustees' Distinguished Service Awards at the annual Founder's Day chapel. "The little help that we give is really absorbed and used a great deal ... Let me thank you, Louisiana College, for having such an impact on the educational system in the Third World," said Joe Ricketts. Jim Ricketts, the President and CEO of the foundation and the former vice-president of TD Ameritrade, said, "We're serving the poor in ways that have never been done before ..."
As of mid-2014, the Ending Spending SuperPac had supported only Republicans.
In the 2016 presidential election, Ricketts donated at least one million dollars in support of Donald Trump. Ricketts also raised funds for the Future45 Super Pac and the 45Committee, a pro-Trump 501(c)4 organization that is not required to disclose its donors. During the Republican primaries, Ricketts had contributed to Our Principles PAC, a Super PAC dedicated to opposing Trump. Ricketts explained his changed position citing economic grounds, stating that Hillary Clinton "represents four more years of the Obama-Clinton economic policies that continue to cripple the middle class.”
In 2009, Joe Ricketts founded DNAinfo.com, a digital news Service that used to cover neighborhood news in New York City and Chicago. Ricketts shut it down on November 2, 2017, one week after their employees voted to unionize. Gone with it were Gothamist, Chicagoist, DCist, LAist, SFist, and Shanghaiist. On the 3rd of November, 2017, archived versions of Gothamist, DNAinfo, and other sites were back up. In September 2017, Ricketts explained his actions by stating "I believe unions promote a corrosive us-against-them dynamic that destroys the esprit de corps businesses need to succeed."