Black PACs: Greeks Take Action

Two new political action committees say it's time for our electoral participation to evolve.

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Unity9 PAC and 1911 United operate independently of the black fraternities and sororities referenced in their marketing. Both PACs are staffed with general counsel to ensure compliance with all regulations, and any participation by members of the fraternities and sororities is on a volunteer basis.

The combined membership numbers of Greek-letter organizations, however, are a boon for the committees. "As members of the fraternities, we already have a natural network of potential volunteers in every city," said Skinner of 1911 United. "That's very different than if you start off as a random voter group trying to get people out."

The Divine Nine Strategy

The built-in network from Divine Nine members will certainly aid Unity9 PAC. The nonconnected PAC (organized around an ideological mission rather than corporate or labor interests) seeks to raise $1 million in voluntary contributions. With a combined 2.5 million members of historically black fraternities and sororities, Unity9 PAC is asking for a minimum contribution of $20.12 each -- and it needs only 20 percent participation to hit its fundraising goal.

Decisions about which political candidates get financial support from Unity9 PAC will be settled by the committee's board of directors, which has been evaluating candidates through vetting sheets and documents on the track record of politicians who are already in office.

"We will support candidates who actively pursue legislation around the kinds of things that we are concerned about," said Hamilton, listing the educational achievement gap, economic equality, health disparities, environmental justice and voting rights as the PAC's priority issues. "We want to have people at the table who can champion those areas where there is a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans and others who may be socially or economically disadvantaged."

Hamilton was reluctant to name who's in the running for the committee's financial support, offering only that they may be like-minded candidates of any political party or race. The Unity9 PAC board will meet in June to make its first round of selections.

Nupes and Ques Join Forces

As for 1911 United, which has been operating for five months, the super PAC has raised $80,000 -- a long way from its benchmark of $250,000 by the end of June, and its overall goal of $1.5 million by October. "As the election cycle continues, historically the amount of funding that goes toward our kind of on-the-ground efforts increases," said an undaunted Skinner. Based on the precedent set by past political funding cycles, he expects financial doors to open much wider by September, aiding 1911 United's ultimate goal of 10,000 volunteers and 1 million newly registered voters.

The super PAC's current dollars have allowed it to recruit roughly 3,000 volunteers and train enough to register 1,000 voters so far. It has also paid for a five-week, 24-city bus tour, which kicks off on June 6. After the heightened visibility and reach from the tour -- complete with two black tour buses wrapped with the 1911 United logo and the image of President Obama -- the super PAC's organizers anticipate an additional 4,000 volunteers, 10,000 more registered voters and a total of $250,000 raised through fundraisers at each stop.