Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Congressional Black Caucus Parties and Priorities in the Spotlight

This is a guest post from Genma of Genma Speaks.

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The Congressional Black Caucus (C.B.C) spending budgets on lavish parties have long been a dirty little secret that many have known but rarely talk until now. The New York Times has pulled back the curtains to allow those who have questioned the C.B.C’s politics and fundraising power, a glimpse into C.B.C’s finances and the cozy relationships with corporations.

According to the New York Times article, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation raised $53 million from 2004-2008. The donations poured in from over 700 corporations and unions. The goal of the CBC Foundation is to help disadvantage African American students and policy research. But most of the money has been spent on shindigs and celebrations. The timing of this article could not have come at a more inconvenient time for the C.B.C members. The C.B.C has held several ‘sessions’ behind podiums of late to address the high unemployment rate in the African American community. I call their sessions, meet and greets. Nothing like seeing C.B.C’s members gather together to meet and greet the press with no solutions or ideas about the ills of the communities they were elected to lead. With demands and commands, they want the President to create more jobs in the African American community. When they make demands, none of the C.B.C members address the high school dropout rates in their districts, the high incarceration rate of black men and the number of homes that were bought with little investment of money or no credit.

Very few C.B.C members speak truthfully while posing for photos; when you do not have an education, have a criminal background and no credit...the jobs are few and far between. The truth is hard to accept sometimes. When we examine the number of corporations that are on the C.B.C boards (they have several), we find some of the largest corporations in America. The C.B.C board members read like the Who’s Who of corporate America; Boeing, Dell, Citigroup, Verizon, Heineken, Anheusuer- Busch, Amgen and Glaxo Smith Kline. If a corporation lacks diversity in its company makeup and is known to peddle projects that are harmful to the black community, they are perfect candidates for the C.B.C boards that bring in the money like armoured trucks. The C.B.C members appear to have deeper relationship with many of these corporations than they did with the previous Bush Administration who barely held a meeting with them and rarely acknowledged their existent during his presidency. Yet, they’ve had several meet and greets to make demands of the Obama Administration in the last year. Holding a meeting in the middle of a blizzard last week to discuss jobs in the African American community spoke volumes.

Maybe the C.B.C should hold meetings with corporate board members and ask about sponsorships for job training for former inmates, educational seminars for students to show them the value of staying in school and being a contributing member of society, and real credit counselling for members of the African American community. Since we have seen the damage that Wells Fargo ‘bought’ seminars have done with many cities like Memphis and Baltimore, members of CBC should get out of bed with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and actually help their constituents become better by becoming more knowledgeable of the finance industries. By the way, Fannie Mae was number seven out of the top fifty in donations to the C.B.C Foundation.

In 2008, C.B.C Foundation spent $4.8 million on events and conferences, $3.8 million on programs and researching, and $1.7 million on fundraising and other costs. Expenses for the events and conferences included $700,000 for catering, $350,000 for a decorator, approximately $400,000 for contractor for lighting and production and $372,000 was spent on scholarships according to federal tax records. More money was spent on catering than on scholarships. We often yell about the harm others have perpetuated on the black community but time and again the harm is allowed by the very activists and elected politicians that claimed to fight righteously for the community. C.B.C members are not held responsible for the back door deals that are made at the expense of the folks they represent. C.B.C members are given halos and anointing oil and they prove to be no better John Mayer, whose devilish comments about black folks from a drunken haze infused interview with Playboy Magazine went viral. After reading the balance sheets and donations given to the C.B.C, John Mayer seems like an altar boy. He is a mean, ugly, and crude racist but he is not using “hood passes” to raise money for scholarships for disadvantaged black youths like C.B.C members who stand at the podiums demanding equitable treatment of blacks while having events and parties to honour themselves on corporate and taxpayers’ dime.

The Southern Company, which serves customers in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, paid $300,000 to honour Miss Highness herself Chairwoman Barbara Lee. They were the title sponsor of the event. The unemployment rate in my rural hometown in Mississippi is 18.20%. Mississippi Power and Light is the utility provider to that area. The median income in Jefferson County is around $19,000 a year. The $300,000 sponsorship that The Southern Company spent to serenade a woman who does not represent Mississippi would have employed 12 people. I wondered why an electric company which provides services in the south would spend $300,000 on a California Congresswoman coming out party. “Knowledge is power”, my grandfather would repeat often. When one looks at bills sponsored by Congresswoman Lee, it does not take long to find the answer to my question in fine print to standout:

HR 890: American Renewable Energy Act – Establishes a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) to increase our use of renewable electricity to 25 percent by the year 2025.


Well, no wonder they were willing to give such an electrifying celebration! Influence peddling does not discriminate. Chairwoman Barbara Lee is not the first and only politicians whose relationships with corporations and the bills they sponsored are questionable. But the C.B.C members have way of breaking the backs of the African American community that reminds me of a pimp trying to organize a union for unemployed women of the night.

Look at how the C.B.C uses the Black Newspapers to promote their “goodness” with free publicity while at the same time cozying up to corporations that would NEVER spend ad dollars with Black Press. Heineken Beer? Have a color person ever been in a Heineken ad? But they get a “hood pass” by donating huge dollars to C.B.C who would never jeopardize their party funds to keep jobs in the community that they want the President to take note of the lack of jobs. Got that? I didn't. If ten percent of the money raised by the CBC was given back in ad revenue to the Black Press that covers the CBC daily and weekly, how many Black Newspapers would still be in business? The Black Press held an event in DC for Congresswoman Barbara Lee as well. The Black Newspapers’ sponsorship bought them pictures to promote the CBC for free.

The need to wine and dine with corporations and influence given so freely to the electric company did not seem to reach black newspapers that report every “good and faithful” deed of C.B.C. The Black Press was not a premier sponsor at $500,000, nor a Presidential sponsor at $250,000 or a Congressional sponsor at $100,000. But the dollar value of the ink and paper that was spent to print thousands of photos from the 100’s of events and private parties totaled millions in comp revenue for Black Newspapers around the country. How’s that for equitable treatment? But how often have the C.B.C advocated to the advertising industry on behalf of Black Newspapers or use the network to help others? While at the same time, C.B.C members used the Black Newspapers without a thought to how they are surviving. The Black Press keeps the C.B.C members on the front page in predominant African American communities. “Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free”, comes to mind. Many C.B.C members have become takers from the community they are elected to serve while gathering on the steps of congress to meet and greet and demand and command more for a community that they talk about but under serves.

With the curtains pulled back, let us look closer into the CBC’s window to see their view of the world.

Elsie L. Scott, chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, acknowledged that the companies want to influence members.
Ms. Scott said she, too, had heard criticism that the caucus foundation takes too much from companies seen as hurting blacks. But she said she was still willing to take their money.
“Black people gamble. Black people smoke. Black people drink,” she said in an interview. “And so if these companies want to take some of the money they’ve earned off of our people and give it to us to support good causes, then we take it.”

Sources: NY Times, Charity Navigator, C.B.C and The Southern Company