In the week since the New York Times article “In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse” appeared, there has been a lot of chatter around the web about some of the story’s more salacious details. Many of these conversations, for example, are apt to begin with someone who brings up the $700,000 the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spent on catering in 2008 for its annual legislative dinner and conference. Other online discussions zero in on a small number of grants to disadvantaged African American student scholarships that can be awarded when only $600,000 out of the millions raised by a Congressional Black Caucus affiliated charity are actually earmarked for scholarships.
I can understand the frustration and the sense of outrage coursing through the blogosphere right now, anger that is aimed squarely at African-American Congressmen and Congresswomen for what appears to be an egregious abuse of the public trust. Maybe I’m a natural born skeptic, but the phrase “Fund-Raising Powerhouse” jumped out at me when I read the headline of this article, especially since it was being used to describe the Congressional Black Caucus, a group who has traditionally been known more for its bark than its bite. By the time I got to the fifth paragraph of the article — “From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions” — I had a pretty good idea where New York Times reporters Eric Lipton and Eric Lichtblau were going with this story. They didn’t disappoint me, with a wide ranging narrative that examined the often cozy relationships between some CBC members and their largest donors and the resulting effect these relationships appeared to have on subsequent legislation affecting a donor’s industry.
But where was the context? Where was the obligatory reference to the $3.47 billion dollars spent by corporate lobbyists in 2009, a reference that would show the reader that the $10 – $12 million dollars a year the CBC PAC and its affiliated charities take in is less than one half of one percent of all the lobbyist money floating through D.C.? I don’t know the allegiances of Pamela Gentry, a senior political analyst at BET, but I can agree with her comment, “when convenient the lines [in the NY Times story] were blurred in reporting the difference between the legislative caucus and the non-profit CBC Foundation which operates as a 501(c ) (3) charitable organization; the two are completely separate as required by law.” The CBC chairperson, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, has since released a letter the group sent to the New York Times demanding an apology for a story “well below what we believe are its journalistic standards.”
Black America’s take on this has been varied. Progressive blacks refer to the CBC Legislative weekend extravaganza as “The Negro Super Prom”, hip hop politicos call the CBC’s activities “big pimpin'” while wondering what the real agenda was behind putting black legislators in the spotlight, conservative African Americans feel vindicated…
…and black political veterans jaded by the D.C. scene didn’t raise an eyebrow because “this is how Washington works.”