The New York Times focused a harsh light on the Congressional Black Caucus this Sunday. The article “In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse,” focuses on the caucus’ ability to raise money from large corporations and its support – and sometimes, change of position – after a large donation.
The opening example reported how the organization, which represents the House’s 42 black members, was able to retire the mortgage on its $4 million townhouse headquarters by turning to some of the biggest corporations in the U.S., including Wal-Mart, AT&T, GM and Altria, the largest tobacco company.
The Times: " Most political groups in Washington would have been barred by law from accepting that kind of direct aid from corporations. But by taking advantage of political finance laws, the caucus has built a fund-raising juggernaut unlike anything else in town.
"It has a traditional political fund-raising arm subject to federal rules. But it also has a network of nonprofit groups and charities that allow it to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations and labor unions.
"From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by The New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. (Data for 2009 is not available.)
"The caucus says its nonprofit groups are intended to help disadvantaged African-Americans by providing scholarships and internships to students, researching policy and holding seminars on topics like healthy living.
"But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.
"In 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spent more on the caterer for its signature legislative dinner and conference — nearly $700,000 for an event one organizer called “Hollywood on the Potomac” — than it gave out in scholarships, federal tax records show."
The article also focuses on positions the Caucus has taken on issues that may appear to hurt its constituents.
The Times: "For instance, Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, once backed legislation that would have severely curtailed the rent-to-own industry, criticized in urban districts like his on the West Side of Chicago. But Mr. Davis last year co-sponsored legislation supported by the stores after they led a well-financed campaign to sway the caucus, including a promise to provide computers to a jobs program in Chicago named for him. He denies any connection between the industry’s generosity and his shift."
The article lacked context. Who are the other large Congressional caucuses and how much money do they raise? What stances do they take that harm their constituents? The CBC’s small contribution to its scholarship program compared to its fund-raising total, while legal, will be hard to defend. The influence of companies will also come under scrutiny. Expect a tough eye on the CBC on coming days.
The CC site is here.