Does anyone think that the Congressional Black Caucus works for the interests of the African-American community? Well, think again. It appears that, according to a scathing report in The New York Times, African-Americans don’t have the money to buy the CBC’s loyalty. At the very least, they do not appear to be the top priority for a legislative group that has allowed dollar signs to complicate its priorities.
The New York Times article details a highly suspicious network of foundations and charities that seem to funnel money to CBC members in exchange for influence in Washington. The political and charitable wings of the CBC took in $55 million dollars between 2004 and 2008, with only $1 million of that coming through their political action committee; the rest came through their unregulated network of foundations, which are allowed to escape campaign finance laws designed to keep legislators from being bought by corporate America.
While the CBC argues that the funds are used to support charitable causes in the African-American community, it seems that the foundation spends more time “big balling” with elaborate corporate events than it spends actually doing work for the community. Federal tax records show that the CBC Foundation spent more money on the caterer for its annual dinner, $700,000 dollars, than it spent giving out scholarships. As my mama used to say, “That’s just trifling.”
Even more disturbing are the relationships that the Congressional Black Caucus has formed with industries that clearly do not have the interests of the black community at heart, including the Internet poker industry, cigarette manufacturers, alcoholic beverage producers and rent-to-own companies. Many rent-to-own companies operate in predominantly black neighborhoods and are effectively electronic drug dealers: They give consumers a quick high today in exchange for unethically high fees and massive amounts of debt. Well guess what? The CBC is one of the reasons that the rent-to-own industry has been allowed to expand its operations in urban communities where CBC members don’t even live.
What the Congressional Black Caucus must understand is that money is really like a drug: powerful, addictive and capable of changing your incentives almost immediately. It allows others to manipulate you by leveraging your dependence on the drug – there is no one more powerful in the life of an addict than the person pushing the dope – African-Americans are especially vulnerable to the financial drug, since we don’t have much money in the first place. We take money without a second thought and then wake up to find that our appetite for civil rights has been absorbed by the complacency of capitalism. We watch injustice happen right in front of us and look the other way out of fear of losing the financial security on which we’ve come to depend. With every dollar you take from an enemy, you are selling just a wee bit more of your integrity.
Allowing the CBC to take money from any corporation offering it is one of the hugest political mistakes in black American history. It would be no different from a father telling his daughter to take money from any boy who offers it under the assumption that none of these boys are going to want anything in return. Corporations don’t give money to politicians just to be nice; they want favors and lots of them.
The most misguided political quote of the year was from Elsie L. Scott, Chief Executive of the CBC Foundation. In her interview with The New York Times, Ms. Scott stated that, “Black people gamble. Black people smoke. Black people drink. 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.”
So, here the Chief Executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has openly admitted that she takes money from anyone who offers it. Sorry Ms. Scott, as a finance professor, please allow me to explain what happens when money is exchanged in a capitalist society. These companies are not giving you money to give something back. They are giving you money to buy your legislative influence, opening the door for even greater exploitation of the communities you’ve been chosen to protect. If they get the CBC out of the way, they have carte blanche to do whatever they want.
They spend a million dollars paying for your awards gala, and then take $10 million dollars out of the hands of poor single mothers whose legislators are preoccupied with hobnobbing with celebrities. Most of your CBC clientele are not among the urban poor, so while CBC members benefit from the funds they receive from corporate America, millions of others are going to pay the cost for these payouts. Hence, by taking money from an industry that has been proven to hurt African-Americans, you are in serious neglect of your fiduciary responsibility. A bank security guard would not take money from a bank robber, no matter how much the robber promises to responsibly utilize his access to the vault.
The Congressional Black Caucus had better get it together. The New York Times article has presented the organization in a light that makes them no different from a corrupt third world dictator or the mother of Shaniya Davis, who took drug money to sell her child to the man who eventually murdered her. The black community must step up and demand as much accountability from the CBC that the CBC was demanding from President Obama just a few months ago.
There should be independent political watchdog groups formed to monitor which politicians are receiving money and from whom they are receiving it. When you’ve been given the solemn right to protect a group of people, the idea that you are taking funds from the enemies of those you serve is simply unacceptable. There should be a series of investigations, and responsible members of the CBC need to start shaking up their relationships.