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.
At the galas, lobbyists and executives who give to caucus charities get to mingle with lawmakers. They also get seats on committees the caucus has set up to help members of Congress decide what positions to take on the issues of the day. Indeed, the nonprofit groups and the political wing are so deeply connected it is sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
Even as it has used its status as a civil rights organization to become a fund-raising power in Washington, the caucus has had to fend off criticism of ties to companies whose business is seen by some as detrimental to its black constituents.
You may be wondering why I would think Florida’s traditional or new media would be interested in covering a story about the financial troubles of the CBCF. Well, the answer came after I read Black America Web’s Michael H. Cottman’s take on the issue:
Have black congressional leaders betrayed the trust of African-Americans who are suffering? Has money been siphoned off from black single mothers and single fathers, raising children alone? What about black high school students who have great promise but no financial resources for college? And have black seniors received their fair share of funding for assistance with health care in their communities?
To say the CBCF has an image problem is a huge understatement. What’s clear is this: The Caucus needs an extensive – and immediate – overhaul along with an impartial auditor to oversee the books, page by page, line by line. There are no quick fixes here. The Times story alleges there is so much co-mingling between the Congressional Black Caucus and the CBCF, that it’s difficult to determine where the politics end and non-profit work begins.
….The new chairman of the CBCF – Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey – hasn’t publicly uttered a word on the subject. Payne inherited this embarrassing mess from outgoing CBCF chairman Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida, who is busy running for a U.S. Senate seat. Some of the CBCF’s alleged mismanagement happened during Meek’s tenure as chairman, but Meek, like Payne, has also been silent on the need for checks and balances inside the CBCF.
The CBCF has responded, posting on its website: On Sunday, February 14, 2010, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was the subject of a tasteless article in The New York Times. While you are aware of the good work of the CBCF, many New York Times readers are not aware of our work and the impact of the CBCF programs. Please know that we are aggressively responding to The New York Times’ article and vigorously defending both our work and our stewardship of the funds entrusted to the CBCF.
Still, as another blogger asks, is there anyone in the state of Florida who wants to follow up on this line of questioning to Representative Meek?