Corporate funding and influence have succeeded
in placing the most rightwing members of the Congressional
Black Caucus (CBC)
in key positions that empower them to recruit and fund other
business- and Republican-friendly Black candidates. Unless independent
are created to finance progressive CBC incumbents – and nurture
challengers to the corporate contributions-rich members – the
rightwing faction will replicate itself, and the Caucus will
lose all but
ceremonial value to Black America.
Corporate-led members already exercise an effective
veto power in the CBC, preventing the Caucus from taking positions
line” issues vital to African Americans, but deemed inimical to
wealthy interests. History will record that the CBC definitively
lost its ability to act as a body on behalf of its national Black
constituency last month, when 15 members voted with the Republicans
on at least one of three critical measures: bankruptcy, repeal
of the estate tax, and energy. (See chart in BC, “How
to Fix the Fractured Black Caucus,” April
Six members make up the core of defectors from
the historical Black Political Consensus – deviants from the CBC’s proud 36-year
progressive tradition: Harold Ford, Jr. (TN), Artur Davis (AL),
David Scott (GA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Albert Wynn (MD), and William
Jefferson (LA). All but Jefferson are members of the Democratic
Leadership Council (DLC) and/or the Blue Dog Coalition, vehicles
for corporate funding and intrigue in the Democratic Party. Having
reached critical mass with the election of Alabama’s Davis and
Georgia’s Scott in 2002, the corporate-allied faction’s influence
is greatly enhanced by the DLC’s institutional and financial clout.
Rep. Albert Wynn chairs the Caucus’s Political Action Committee,
through which he can direct funds to incumbents and candidates.
The congressman from Washington, DC’s relatively prosperous Maryland
suburbs is the DLC’s key operative in the Caucus – which is doubtless
the reason he sits in the money-chair. Wynn scored a grand slam
for the Republicans in April, siding with the GOP on all three “bright
line” measures, as did Bishop, Scott, and Jefferson.
Send in the Clones...
Davis occupies a far more dangerous position. Early this
year, the 38-year-old Harvard Law School graduate and former
prosecutor became one of two lawmakers in charge of the Democratic
Party’s congressional candidate recruitment and development efforts
in the Southeast. Davis was tapped by fellow DLCer Rahm Emanuel
(IL), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
known as the D-Triple-C.
Ironically, the white half of the party’s Southeast
candidate search team, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz,
is a relatively progressive Democrat. She voted against all three “bright
line” Republican measures, last month. However, as the Black member,
Davis can be expected to hold sway over African American candidate
recruitment and funding. Progressive Black congressional aspirants
don’t stand a chance under Davis, who will cultivate pro-corporate
candidates, thus pushing the Congressional Black Caucus further
to the right, and irrelevance. Davis will clone himself.
Boardroom choice for Alabama Black Belt
Davis’s ascent is a near-pure product of massive, unprecedented
corporate intervention in Black electoral politics – the direct
cause of the current crisis in Black leadership. A marginal political
figure in 2000, Davis garnered only 30 percent of the Democratic
primary vote in his first challenge to four-term Rep. Earl Hilliard,
a member of both the CBC and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Then, in 2002, corporate cash rained down on the Black Belt. As BC reported
25, 2002, Hilliard didn’t know what hit him.
“[T]here were people who were sent to Alabama that were on
the payroll of corporations who were doing all the necessary
ground work and preparations and…when they put the money in,
the money came like, WOW! It came almost at one time, over
a period of about 30 days. Sometime between the report that
we got, which I believe was the report of the last of April,
and the election, which was June 4, they raised about $700,000
“And between May 1 and June 20, he raised
$1,098,000. This is pure cash, reportable cash. Even now,
he [Davis] still has
money coming in.
“But, it doesn't show the total amount,
because there is no way you can calculate the services that
he got. But I estimate
that he got $2,000,000 worth of press, or more, from the Jewish
press as well as the Republican press.
“There's no question that it was well planned
and, to be honest with you, well executed.”
Davis was a beneficiary of the mid-Nineties corporate decision
to change the political complexion of Democratic Black
America. The scheme became operational in 2002, unseating Hilliard
and Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney, and installing David Scott
in a new district just south of Atlanta. Although the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
was eager to take credit for Hilliard’s and McKinney’s defeats,
the offensive was actually hatched in corporate think tanks and
boardrooms, years before. AIPAC crowed loudly, for intimidation
effect, but corporate operatives deployed the big bucks and media.
Davis won 56 percent to 44 percent in the 60 percent Black district,
garnering a minority of the Black vote and nearly all the whites.
(He did, however, do somewhat better among Blacks than Denise
Majette, who beat McKinney in Georgia with only about 16 percent
of the African American vote.) Most Congressional Black Caucus
members backed Hilliard. However, the Democratic Congressional
Campaign Committee (D-Triple-C) provided only tepid and belated
support to incumbent Hilliard in 2002.
David Scott also enjoyed overwhelming corporate backing to win
his first campaign for a suburban Atlanta seat, outspending his
opponent by more than 3
to 1 ($1,286,263 to $409,831). Corporations spent lots of
money to create the “Worst
In 2004, another money monsoon was arranged
for Artur Davis’s
benefit to ensure that Alabama’s Black Belt seat remained safe
for corporate America. It was overkill. Davis spent $1,061,356 – 75
percent of it from business interests. His Democratic primary
opponent, Albert Turner Jr., a Perry County Commissioner and
son of a noted civil rights leader, raised only $26,340 – a
40 to 1 disadvantage. Turner’s pitiful war chest was about
equal to the yearly household income of one median family
in the district, the poorest in the CBC.
The corporate largess that allowed Davis
to spend over a million dollars to crush an impoverished opponent – well
over twice the average CBC
member’s campaign contributions per election cycle – marked him
as a go-to Black guy in the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC),
which arranged for his key posting as African American candidate
recruiter. Davis can now direct both corporate and Democratic
Party funds to his corporate clones in the Southeast, home to
the majority of the U.S. Black population. He is the perfectly
positioned Trojan Horse in African American electoral politics.
In tandem with the DLC’s Albert Wynn (MD), chairman of the Congressional
Black Caucus PAC, Davis has the power to eventually render the
CBC unrecognizable – and institutionally useless for anything
other than legislation acceptable to corporate boardrooms.
Clearly, the task is the create a Black Progressive
PAC. In every previous generation, African Americans have discussed – and
some have made efforts to create – mechanisms to independently
fund Black political movements and electoral candidacies. At
the turn of the 20th Century, when Booker T. Washington’s corporate-funded “Tuskegee
Machine” wielded vast influence over Black political affairs,
more radical Black voices struggled to make themselves heard,
with scant resources. Marcus Garvey organized an African American
grassroots fund-raising operation that has not been equaled,
since. However, Garvey eschewed electoral politics in favor of
Since the liberating Sixties, the Black political
fund-raising conversation has revolved around finding resources
to put more
Black faces in high places – what we at BC call “head
count politics.” This lack of in-depth attention to Black candidates’ detailed
political agendas usually worked out well enough, in general.
Despite individual cases of corruption, it was exceedingly rare
that an African American elected from a Black majority jurisdiction
would openly defy the historical Black Political Consensus on
issues of peace, social and racial equality, public power vs.
corporate domination, elemental fairness in the marketplace and
public sphere, and the responsibility of government to reverse
historical wrongs and inequities.
All that has changed, most dramatically since
2002. The corporate cash intervention in Black electoral politics,
with corporate media attacks on “civil rights-type” politicians,
has subverted and deformed much of the Black political landscape.
Although there is no evidence that the masses of Blacks have
been persuaded to turn against themselves, a significant
portion of the Black political class has been purchased or cowed.
The house needs cleaning, before we can re-focus on expansion
of Black political representation.
The urgently needed Black Progressive PAC
(BP PAC) must 1) be supported mainly by small donations from
a broad base of predominantly
Black donors, 2) fund and endorse candidates and incumbents based
on their adherence to progressive positions on “bright line” issues,
and 3) conduct extensive voter education and candidate development
work, in the knowledge that overwhelming majorities of Blacks
support progressive stances on “bright line” issues and, if informed,
will vote accordingly. (In the last instance, BP PAC will clash
directly with Rep. Artur Davis – the Black corporate clone-candidate
developer at the D-Triple-C – and with Rep. Albert Wynn, if he
remains head of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC.)
Scope of the mission
To put the political and financial task in
perspective, the entire Congressional Black Caucus – excluding the non-voting
delegates from Washington, DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands and
Illinois Senator Barack Obama – campaigns on less than $20 million
every two-year election cycle. (Forty-one members x an average
$466,188 in campaign contributions = $19,113,708.) BP PAC will
not be required to intervene in most current CBC districts. About
two-thirds of Caucus members are consistently progressive and
need not be challenged, and most progressive members occupy relatively
safe seats (for the time being).
The mere existence of an adequately funded
BP PAC, capable of mounting a serious challenge to incumbents
who step over “bright
lines,” will act as a deterrent to defections to the Right. A
number of the 15 Black congresspersons that crossed one or more “bright
lines” last month (see the chart, below), would not have done
so if BP PAC existed.
BC is of the opinion that
the BP PAC donor base need not be as huge as many people
might think – but everyone
is welcome to do the math. Dr. Marcellus Andrews, Senior Research
Fellow at the New America Foundation and a BC contributing
writer, in a letter last
week calculated that one million Blacks contributing $5
per month to a PAC would raise $60 million per year:
”Five dollars per month, or $60 per year,
per person is about the cost of a pair of sneakers, or dinner
for two at a fancy restaurant, with one glass of wine each,
or the cost of two mid-priced tickets to a pro-basketball game.
So, progressive black politics could be energized if a city
of adults the size of Detroit spent $60 a year. That’s
power on the cheap.”
Since congressional election cycles are every two years, that
comes to $120 million per congressional campaign season.
BC envisions a much more
modest and quickly achievable donor base of 50,000 persons
contributing an average
of $100 per year: $5 million annually, $10 million every two-year
election cycle. Ten million dollars is half the total spent
each cycle by the combined full-voting House members of the
CBC – more than sufficient to expose and expel the hardcore
deviants from the historical Black Political Consensus, and
put some spine (or fear) in wavering members.
BP PAC would not, of course, confine itself to congressional
races. The same corporate disease that is neutering the CBC
afflicts Black caucuses in state legislatures across the country.
The North Carolina Black Caucus, for example, has been fractured for
years, with no common agenda. Other statewide caucuses exist
in name only, as opportunistic members freelance their votes
without fear of exposure or challenge.
Shameless corporate servants occupy city halls in a growing
number of predominantly Black cities, such as Republican-loving Ray
Nagin in New Orleans, and voucher poster boy Anthony
Williams in Washington, DC. Cory Booker, a wholly-owned
subsidiary of the rightwing Bradley Foundation and the Wal-Mart
family, is poised for another multi-million-dollar run for
mayor of Newark, New Jersey. And there are many more Trojan
Horses waiting to present themselves to an uninformed Black
Let’s get it started
In his letter to BC, Dr.
Marcellus Andrews points out that a well endowed Black Progressive
function as much more than a cash dispenser. “Black America
could run its own money primary – where candidates campaign
for the support of black PACs, which would in turn have to
pay close attention to the views of their small contributors
lest they lose an important part of their funding base.”
BP PAC could be the beginning of a desperately
needed transformation of Black politics in the U.S. – and
make no mistake about it, there is a huge pent-up demand
among a majority of African
Americans for new mechanisms of independent political action.
Studies show that most Blacks favor the general idea of an
independent Black political party. However, it should be clear
to any sober observer that a Black polity that does not yet
have the tools to keep its current elected representatives
in check, is woefully unprepared to build a full-fledged party
at this time.
The first step toward independent action
is the drawing of “bright
lines” in the political sand, and the creation of mechanisms
that punish and reward politicians based on their “bright line” behavior.
BP PAC should be that mechanism.
BP PAC must be independent of wealthy,
corporate Blacks, who have their own ways of influencing
public policy – as do all
rich people. Remember that BET founder Bob
Johnson orchestrated a petition by fifty rich, high profile
African Americans in service of George Bush’s campaign to repeal
the estate tax, in 2002. Earlier this year, Johnson tried to
organize a “retreat” of
invited Black notables to discuss the future of Black politics.
A Black political fundraising mechanism was high on the agenda.
However, any fund influenced by Johnson and his friends would
wind up backing clones of Representatives Artur Davis, Albert
Wynn, Harold Ford, David Scott, Sanford Bishop, and William
Jefferson; Mayors Ray Nagin, and Anthony Williams; and rightwing
Booker, who share Johnson’s corporate worldview.
It costs money to raise money – to gather
and service a funding base. Two weeks ago BC suggested
that the Black Progressive PAC might be jump-started with
transfers of funds from the white-led left-liberal PACs that
raised tens of millions of dollars in the previous election
cycle. Some readers were understandably skeptical, on both
principled and practical grounds. Our position is that African
Americans comprise half of the total voting population that
can reasonably be described as “progressive,” without whom
the left-liberals would have no mass, concentrated presence
in the U.S. It is counterproductive that the tens millions
of dollars raised to fight for a progressive agenda remain
almost totally under the management of whites – one of countless
manifestations of white societal privilege – when Blacks are
the group most committed to progressive politics.
If the corporate offensive in the Black Democratic arena
is allowed to do further damage, progressive politics in America
will disintegrate. Only Black progressives, acting with complete
transparency in their own communities, can blunt the corporate
assault – but a jump-start would be helpful. White progressives
with access to money are obligated to assist in preventing
a corporate takeover of Black electoral politics. It is in
their own interests. Once the initial mechanisms are in place,
BP PAC would be off and running on its own – independent, self-sustaining,
With or without white left-liberal help, the crisis in Black
political leadership demands that BP PAC emerge. In
the process of freeing Black politics from corporate strangulation,
African Americans will also determine if the Democratic Party
is a fit vessel for our presence. The first step is to identify,
target and purge from office those corporate Black Democrats
who are, as we speak, busily cloning themselves.
BC Co-Publishers Glen Ford and Peter
Gamble are working on a book to be titled, Barack Obama
and the Crisis of Black Leadership.
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