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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 mechanisms 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 on “bright 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 28, 2005.)
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.
Printer friendly version of Send
in the Clones cartoon.
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 (DCCC), commonly known as the
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
on July 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 - $800,000.
“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
“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
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
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,
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 reclaiming Africa.
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, closely coordinated
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
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.
||Ford Jr. (TN)
||Lacy Clay (MO)
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
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 public.
Let’s get it started
In his letter to BC, Dr. Marcellus Andrews points out that a well
endowed Black Progressive PAC would 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 darling Cory
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 very modest 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, and powerful.
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.