A Leading Black Think Tank Is Barely Scraping By

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the few organizations that provide intel about the black American electorate. And it’s broke.

A sign marks a polling place Nov. 4, 2008, in Reno, Nev.
A sign marks a polling place Nov. 4, 2008, in Reno, Nev. Max Whittaker/Getty Images

Joint Center’s Interim President Working for Free

“The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, esteemed as America’s foremost think tank for Black political and economic research, is struggling with financial problems so serious that its political arm has been gutted and its interim president is working for free,” Hazel Trice Edney reported for her Trice Edney NewsWire.

Edney originally transmitted her story to little notice on May 25. She sent it out again on Wednesday with a note that the Washington-based center’s “crucial fundraiser” — its annual dinner — takes place June 25.

The center has long been a go-to source for journalists seeking data on black political participation and black elected officials.

“The Joint Center stepped up and provided clear-eyed analysis of the black electorate at a time when few, if any, other think tanks would do so,” Sonya Ross, an editor at the Associated Press who chairs the Political Journalism Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms by email. “It houses the wisdom of the elders where black people’s political behavior is concerned, and we journalists need that long-range institutional knowledge more than ever now, as we explain America’s emerging multiracial reality.”

Founded in 1970 as the Joint Center for Political Studies, the think tank expanded its focus to jobs and “economic rights” and added “Economic” to the “Political” its name. “The principal areas of work now include political participation, economic advancement, health policy, energy and the environment, and media and technology,” according to its website.

David A. Bositis, the center’s senior research associate and a primary contact for journalists as its chief pollster, confirmed Wednesday that he left the organization in February. He said by telephone that he is still conducting research, doing public speaking and “looking at a few positions.” Bositis, 64, said he is not ready to retire and can be reached at dbositis (at) gmail.com.

Trice Edney’s story continued, “Spencer Overton, the center’s interim president/CEO, is on sabbatical from his job as a Georgetown University law professor. He assumed the interim presidency in February after the departure of Ralph Everett, who was president for about eight years. Upon Everett’s departure Dec. 31, Dr. Brian D. Smedley, director of the Center’s Health Policy Institute, assumed the interim presidency briefly until Overton was announced. But Overton, who was also a member of the Joint Center’s board, recently confirmed in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire that he took the position with no salary.

” ‘No, I am not on salary,’ Overton confirmed in a brief interview after participating as a panelist for a recent Capitol Hill event.

“When asked previously about the financial state of the Joint Center, Overton had responded guardedly in an email saying, ‘”The recession has affected various organizations. People of color face significant challenges, however…there is a clear need for a think tank that focuses on policies that affect people of color. I think if we focus on the challenges of real people, produce high quality policy solutions to those challenges, maintain responsible internal practices, and clearly communicate the value of our work to potential supporters, we will grow and thrive. There is much work to do, but I’m excited about the future.’