Unity9PAC, a political action committee aimed towards electing and encouraging members of the “Divine 9” sororities and fraternities to run for elective office is about to formally launch. The endeavor has been two years in the making. The PAC’s creators have been informing all interested parties including elected officials and the Presidents of the “Divine 9” fraternities and sororities.
The “divine nine” make up the oldest African American Greek lettered fraternities and sororities in the country. They are Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity. When combined together, the nine make up over 6,000 chapters across the country.
The potential combined power of the groups is huge. If 5,000 divine nine members — 555 per group — donated $200 a year they’d reach $1 million. That divine math is drawing attention.
The Chair of Unity9PAC is Sam Hamilton, David Hardrick is the President and Dorothy Jackson is the Vice President. Hamilton tells Politic365 that a formal announcement of Unity9PAC is expected in April in Washington, D.C. A press statement on the new political action committee is expected within the next two weeks. The PAC will be a regular “open” political action committee and not a “super PAC.”
“If you want to go quickly you go alone. If you want to go far you go together,” Hamilton said in an interview quoting the popular African saying.
Each member of the Unity9PAC Board is a member of one of the “divine nine” fraternities or sororities. The leaders of the divine nine are aware of the Unity9PAC – but, by virtue of their 501(c)(3) status will not participate in the PAC’s decisions. Decisions regarding which candidates the PAC will donate money to will be made by the Unity9PAC Board with the help of a candidate questionnaire. All involvement by fraternity and sorority members must be on a volunteer basis.
The Unity9PAC website states the PAC seeks to, “support both our elected officials and worthy candidates for local, state or federal office who share our community interests and priorities on legislation which will impact our lives. The PAC will allow like-minded citizens, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or political party affiliation, to pool resources in order to influence decisions of who gets what, how much and how often.”
“We could provide financial support to anyone,” Hardrick said. Hamilton said the issues the PAC will focus around will be the achievement gap, economic equality, health disparities and protecting voting rights.
Hamilton put the total number of people in the divine nine sororities and fraternities between 2 and 3 million. The oldest Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha (1906) puts their membership at 180,000 and the oldest Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha (1908) says they have 260,000 members in the U.S.
Other Black political action committees have been attempted, but none as big as this. Members of Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi recently formed a Super PAC to support President Obama. Each election cycle, there are approximately 200 African Americans running for office for state legislature and there are currently 44 African American members of Congress.
The PACs divine nine theme and focus would appear to be a good fit since so many Black elected officials are divine nine members. Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio is a former President of Delta Sigma Theta.
There are more members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (9) than any of the other divine nine groups in Congress. They include Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Reps. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY). Kappa Alpha Psi members include Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Lacy Clay (D-MO), Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS). Reps. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Sheila Jackson Lee, Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Eddie Bernice Johnson are members of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
One of the goals stated on the Unity9PAC website outlines the political action committee’s focus. It states that Unity9PAC “will financially assist candidates who demonstrate a realistic approach to solving the problems of our community and its related interest …. The PAC will allow like-minded citizens, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, or political party affiliation, to pool resources in order to influence decisions of who gets what, how much and how often.”
The Chairman of Unity9PAC, Sam Hamilton, says the reaction has been enthusiastic. At the same time, he and PAC President Hardrick are careful and mindful of the rules keeping a separation between their efforts to donate to candidates and the sororities and fraternities. They have been careful to have many discussions about their efforts and get all the ducks in order before a hard launch.
Since fraternities and sororities are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, like churches, they are not to be involved in direct political activity. Political announcements can’t be made at fraternity or sorority functions. And Unity9PAC has to be careful not to associate any of the non-profit groups in their activity. No non-profit assets can be used to advance the PAC. Unity9PAC could purchase a booth at a fraternity or sorority function but would have to do so at their expense.
Hamilton and Hardrick are getting all the ducks in order with a clear understanding of political action committee “dos” and “don’ts” well understood before a big official launch. Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus are aware of the PAC and enthusiastic.
“Excellent. Excellent idea,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) who is a Kappa Alpha Psi member. “Greekdom is something you find on just about every historically Black college campus and on some White ones now. It’s a good opportunity for those associated with sororities and fraternities to now make a political statement. It’s a long time coming but I’m glad it’s here,” Thompson said. “When you put the divine nine together it takes it to another level,” he added.
“You can support candidates who best articulate and demonstrate support for your issues just like every other PAC. There are other organizations that have non profit status on one hand but they have a political arm also — as long as you don’t cross the firewall. I see it as a maturing of the Greek fraternities and sororities,” Rep. Thompson said.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter at @crewof42