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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Rich Beggars

Just for the sake of this post, let us assume that somewhere in this country a “Black America” really exists, made up of people who are members by choice– and not simply segregated by color;   people who identify with the needs, wants and aspirations of the group, and who are united in a desire to respond to its unique and special challenges.   
Even in such a group of self-included individuals there will be considerable difference of opinion about the ways to fix all the things that ail us, so maybe the term “Black America” — without additional qualifiers — is patently inaccurate.  Or just unrealistic.  Still, despite our wildly different points of view, I would argue that the vast majority of us nonetheless understand the reason– and the need– for black political representation.
So it is surprising that in 2015 there are not more black Political Action Committees (PACs).
Since the late 1970s, we’ve discussed within our community the size of Black America and where we would rank among the other nation states of the world.  We’ve talked about our economic purchasing power and its importance in the struggle for fair and equitable treatment throughout both the public and private sectors.  The late Floyd Frazier and I shared a dream about a black United Way, recognized by every employer in the nation, allowing blacks to have just one or two dollars deducted from their weekly pay and deposited into a national account to be used to fund black-specific causes.  With more than 40 million blacks in the country today, with at least 20 million taking home a weekly paycheck, such a concept could mean as much as $40 million per week being added to the pool– a whopping $160 million a month, and over a billion each year.  We could help advocate for and fund the causes that directly impact us:  AIDS research, hungry children, LUPUS and sickle-cell, to name a few.
Now imagine  if another one or two dollars were donated to a black PAC (we’d still be under $5 per week).   PAC money could have been used to mobilize black voters in Ferguson, MO, where the city council and police force were both overwhelmingly white despite a population base that remains 70 percent black.  

Black PACs do exist, and the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi fraternities are to be commended for taking the step four years ago to form 1911 United– a super PAC named after the year both organizations were founded.   1911 United was proudly founded to take a decided stance in favor of Obama’s 2012 re-bid for the White House, and its goal was to raise a modest $1.5 million.  The groups realized they could raise the money faster together organized as a PAC under the rules that make it easy for donors to give more than $2,000.  Groups traditionally organized under 501 (c)(4) of the federal tax code can’t do that. 

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Finding other Black PACS is not easy.  Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC)— founded and chaired by Alan Keyes— is the largest of all minority political action committees and one of the top 25 funded PACs in the nation.  It is, of course, conservative in orientation (Alan Keyes), supporting a largely Republican agenda, and until 1911 United was the almost sole Black point of view within the super PAC community.  If you know of another, please let me know.

For those who may not know, PACs have been around since the 1940s.  They were allowed to accept up to $5,000 from an individual donor, but could only give a maximum of $5,000 per candidate per election.   (They were also restricted to giving a maximum of $15,000 each year to a national party committee, like the Democratic or Republican National Committee.)    Any potential voter (i.e. citizen), on the other hand, could give a candidate $2,500 directly, and up to $30,800 per year to a national party.

The Super PAC changed that dynamic.  On July 22, 2010, the FEC gave birth to this new PAC and ruled that individuals, corporations, and unions can contribute unlimited cash to a Super PAC– so the ceiling on how much money can be injected into elections was soundly kicked to the curb.

Just about the only two things a Super PAC cannot do is 1) coordinate directly with the candidate’s campaign staff– which regular PACs couldn’t do either; and 2) contribute directly to candidates the way regular PACs do.   Super PACs have to spend their money in areas like media consultants and advertising.  The good thing, in concept, about the Super PAC, is that it takes the PAC back to its roots– political action, as opposed to electioneering.  When you give money to a candidate, there’s no telling what it might be spent on.  A Super PAC, on the other hand, has to use the money to either advance the issues of the candidate it supports or to blast the issues of the ones it opposes.  No money gets spent, for example, on things like driving people to the polls.

There are some national issues confronting the Black demographic that demand Super PAC attention– and Super PAC money.  One, of these, by example, is the use of excessive force by police.  Anyone who runs for an elective office that is not willing to condemn excessive (meaning unnecessary) use of force against unarmed citizens, ought to face the wrath of a Super PAC and be forced to seek alternative employment.  Period.

There are other issues, of course, but their existence won’t matter much if we don’t have the collective resolve to confront and challenge them.  This requires an organizational structure with the vision and the capacity for follow-through.  1911 United might not be that organization since its vision is severely limited in scope.

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On its website, 1911 United says: “The vision is for us to work together to build an army of Obama supporters across the United States.”  With the President’s departure from office, an Obama army is no longer needed– so 1911 United will likely cease to exist.  It’s a shame, in my opinion, because there is so much more work to be done– and the opportunity to make a real impact in and for the Black community yet abounds.

We’re collectively rich, but curiously still begging for somebody else to reach out and save our people.


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