BlackPAC

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BlackPAC

Beginnings

In 2016, BlackPAC — then a little-known, leftist super PAC led by a longtime political organizer — swept into Alabama’s special U.S. Senate race and began spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to great effect.

The New York-based BlackPAC knocked on more than 520,000 doors, sent mail to 271,000 homes and made 72,000 phone calls to Alabamians. The effort helped organize black volunteers en masse, who in turn urged prospective voters to the polls.

In the end, the candidate BlackPAC backed, Democrat Doug Jones, notched one of the most notable electoral victories in modern congressional history, defeating Republican Roy Moore in a state that hadn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992. BlackPAC spent nearly $614,000 on canvassing and calls in a matter of weeks, ranking it among the biggest super PAC rainmakers in a race that attracted more than $19 million in non-candidate spending overall, including the primaries.

Avowedly anti-Donald Trump, anti-white supremacy and pro-black political power, BlackPAC is now positioning itself headed into the 2018 midterm elections as a “movement” fighting against, among other roadblocks to equality, “unchecked power” and a “corrupt campaign finance system that benefits corporations over citizens.”[1]

Money

BlackPAC’s financial resources, for one, do not come from an army of small-dollar, “grassroots” donors in the style of a politician such as Bernie Sanders. Instead, its primary bankrollers are a coterie of well-heeled organizations with deep ties to the national Democratic Party, such as the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action.

These groups, in turn, are funded in large part by wealthy, white men. Liberal, “dark money” nonprofit groups that don’t publicly disclose the identities of their own contributors are also among BlackPAC’s bankrollers.

BlackPAC’s executive director, Adrianne Shropshire, said an upstart group such as hers can’t achieve its activist goals without a significant infusion of cash.

Shropshire, a longtime political activist and community organizer with roots in California, said building an organization dedicated to year-round voter engagement, “takes money.”

Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for political reform group Common Cause, isn’t swayed by BlackPAC’s justification for raising money in the fashion it has.

“Voter turnout among underrepresented groups is a really important thing for democracy,” he said of BlackPAC’s mission. “But the ends don’t justify the means.”

Ryan said BlackPAC, which has a mission he personally agrees with, “is now effectively serving as a conduit of ‘dark money.’”

Shropshire created BlackPAC two years ago as Obama’s days as president were dwindling and Trump’s political fortunes were improving. BlackPAC’s office is located in a 12-story Harlem, New York, office building. Shropshire, who also serves as BlackPAC’s treasurer, says she works alongside a group of advisers and consultants, although she wouldn’t say how many.

Black voters turned out in record numbers during the 2012 presidential election — two out of three eligible voters cast ballots.

But black voter turnout declined in 2016, to less than 60 percent of eligible voters. This marked the first decline of black voting in a presidential election in 20 years, according to Pew Research. And it contributed to an outcome the vast majority of black Americans didn’t want: Trump’s defeat of Clinton. Clinton received 88 percent of the black vote in 2016, compared to Obama’s 93 percent, according to Pew.

So Shropshire and her political organizing contemporaries from across the country posed a question to themselves: How could they sustain black voter interest after Obama left the White House?

Of the more than $5.4 million BlackPAC has raised since its founding, $1.7 million has come from the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU’s Committee on Political Education and local and regional SEIU entities. SEIU has over two million members who work in healthcare, property services and public service.

SEIU is intimately tied to mainline Democratic politics. During the 2016 election alone, it spent nearly $17 million on political advertisements advocating for Clinton and against Trump and millions more boosting liberal Senate and House candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

BlackPAC was “incubated” by SEIU, Shropshire said. The union continues to play a significant role in the amount of funding that BlackPAC receives. Black Americans do retain relatively strong ties to organized labor: In 2017, black workers, at 12.6 percent, had a higher rate of union membership than white, Hispanic or Asian workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Shropshire said SEIU has an extensive track record of supporting liberal organizations and black civic engagement. Because of this, she said, SEIU helped bring together its state and local partners to talk about how black voters could be involved in the political process. Shropshire helped to conceive and facilitate these conversations, and BlackPAC was born.

Shropshire' strong relationship with SEIU can be traced back to 2014 when the union paid her $150,000 for “support for political advocacy.” In 2016, SEIU paid Shropshire $100,000 for “political activities” and $21,634 for her consulting.

SEIU, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, isn’t the only major BlackPAC funder with close ties to the national Democratic Party.

Liberal super PACs Senate Majority PAC (which supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidates), Priorities USA Action (the main super PAC that backed Clinton in 2016) and Women Vote! (a project of EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights), are among BlackPAC’s other top bankrollers.

A commonality among these BlackPAC backers is that they’re largely funded by wealthy, white donors.

Senate Majority PAC has, for its part, given BlackPAC $566,240 — money that comes from the fortunes of hedge funder Donald Sussman, billionaire businessman George Soros and Soros’ son, Alexander Soros, among others, according to FEC records.

Senate Majority PAC, spokesman Chris Hayden said, partnered with BlackPAC in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race and spent $2 million on a voter turnout operation in partnership with BlackPAC.

“We thought it was a real opportunity to effect change in a special election,” Hayden said.

Majority Forward — a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit organization that doesn’t disclose its donors — has given $614,000 to BlackPAC since the PAC started up, according to FEC filings. Marc Elias, former general counsel for Clinton’s presidential campaign and general counsel for the Democratic National Committee, counts Senate Majority PAC and Majority Forward among his list of clients.

Priorities USA Action’s top funders include Soros, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and venture capitalist Jay Robert Pritzker. The super PAC, which is run by longtime Democratic Party operative Patrick McHugh, has also received millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other trade unions and their connected political committees.

EMILY’s List is a PAC whose central mission is helping Democratic women who support abortion rights win office. Women Vote! paid $200,000 directly to a digital ad vendor so that BlackPAC could independently create its own ads. Women Vote! spent $5.5 million in support of Hillary Clinton that year.

BlackPAC can also count the Sixteen Thirty Fund, another 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit group, among its allies with Clinton ties.

Last year, the group, which is headed by former Clinton administration adviser and Arabella Advisors founder Eric Kessler, gave BlackPAC $225,463.

Arabella Advisors is a firm that advises foundations, philanthropists and investors on causes, such as climate change and civic engagement.

Another 501(c)(4) nonprofit supporting BlackPAC is The Advocacy Fund, which gave BlackPAC $275,000 last year. The Advocacy Fund helps liberal donors and activists “to run high impact legislative and political campaigns by providing a legal and fiscal home,” according to its website.

While BlackPAC is primarily funded by other super PACs and “dark money” nonprofits, Shropshire, BlackPAC’s founder, says she believes “our policies should not be controlled by who has the most amount of money.”

Atlanta-based Black Voters Matter Fund co-founders Latosha Brown and Clifford Albright both credit BlackPAC with reaching black Alabamians and providing resources to pro-Jones volunteers. Black Voters Matter Fund is a newly launched nonprofit charity with a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” arm.

Brown and Albright both have concerns about how the Democratic Party has treated its black base. But neither criticized BlackPAC for being funded by wealthy, national interests.

Albright said it’s natural that BlackPAC’s source of funding comes from nonblack sources — and debatable to what extent that even matters considering that much of the money that fueled the Civil Rights Movement also came from nonblack, and often secretive sources.

“I’m a proponent that independent politics requires independent money,” he said.[2]

#BlackWomenLead

BlackPAC May 1 2018:

Cdsawerty.JPG

It’s time for #BlackWomenLead. Join our executive director, Adrianne Shropshire, in convo with MoveOn Karine Jean-Pierre and Higher Heights for America, as she talks consolidating, maximizing and exercising Black women's political power.

References

  1. [https://www.publicintegrity.org/2018/03/12/21558/super-pac-has-raised-millions-mobilize-black-voters-does-it-matter-its-funders-are Center for Public BlackPAC eyes 2018 midterms after success in the Alabama special Senate election By Lateshia Beachum 5:00 am, March 12, 2018]
  2. [https://www.publicintegrity.org/2018/03/12/21558/super-pac-has-raised-millions-mobilize-black-voters-does-it-matter-its-funders-are Center for Public BlackPAC eyes 2018 midterms after success in the Alabama special Senate election By Lateshia Beachum 5:00 am, March 12, 2018]