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Latest Sharpton Confab Rakes in Corporate and Union Dough

Monday, May 23, 2016 8:17
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(Before It's News)

Al Sharpton, shakedown artist extraordinaire, never has lacked energy in advancing the profile of his New York-based nonprofit, National Action Network (NAN).  Thanks to corporations and unions, he isn’t lacking cash either.  Last week, during April 13-16, NAN held its annual convention at the Sheraton Times Square Hotel in Manhattan.  The fundraising event, featuring speeches by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, plus nearly 30 panel discussions, gave attendees what they came for:  a mix of black grievance politics and socialist economics.  If Sharpton’s corporate donors ever take time off from Celebrating Diversity, they might reconsider this odd partnership.

National Legal and Policy Center over the years repeatedly has emphasized that Reverend Al Sharpton’s ascension to the status of the nation’s most influential civil rights leader is the product of image self-reinvention.  During the Eighties and Nineties, he was perceived – and rightly so – as a boorish, reckless inciter of mass intimidation on behalf of aggrieved black families toward guilty white “racists.”  Though to this day he justifies his campaigns as embodying the highest ideals of justice, the consequences were toxic and at times tragic.  My recent book, Sharpton:  A Demagogue’s Rise, examines these campaigns in detail.  Sharpton, now 61, is still focused on racial payback.  But his operating style has changed.  Beginning with his own presidential campaign over a dozen years ago, he has projected an image of a pragmatic, “healing” force.  He turns down the volume when the situation calls for it.  He has slimmed down.  He long ago replaced his track suits and medallions with power suits and ties.  Respected newspapers and magazines, from the Wall Street Journal to Newsweek to Vanity Fair, immersed in wishful thinking, have praised the new, “mature” Reverend Al.  But Sharpton, as he himself readily admits, has not changed his views.  He still operates on the premise that whites “owe” a huge debt to blacks and that it’s high time to pay up.  The difference is that he realizes that street rallies alone won’t shift public debate in his direction.  What will is an adroit use of politics and law. 

Sharpton’s makeover has been instrumental in propelling National Action Network, now with at least 70 chapters nationwide, to top-tier status in the world of nonprofit organizations.  He founded the Harlem-based NAN in 1991, incorporating it as a nonprofit in 1999.  As NAN president, he addresses a wide range of public policy issues, but always from a core conviction that the American way of life is rigged against blacks.  He means to transform, not just reform – to cleanse our country, once and for all, of its pervasive “systemic” racism.  In this sense, he is a radical rather than a liberal.  And he shouldn’t be underestimated.  His views are wrong, and usually dangerously wrong.  Yet those views resonate with his large and predominantly black audience.  A February 2013 Zogby Analytics poll conducted a detailed survey of slightly over a thousand blacks across America.  One of the questions read:  “Which of the following speaks for you most often?”  Fully 24 percent of the respondents cited Al Sharpton.  The runners-up were Jesse Jackson, Rep. Maxine Waters and then-NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, respectively, at 11 percent, 9 percent and 8 percent.  Sharpton has a special admirer in President Barack Obama.  The two have met often at the White House.  And his Washington presence isn’t going to end after Obama leaves office.  National Action Network last summer, in fact, established what amounts to a Capitol Hill lobbying operation.  He means for Congress to come around.       

It takes lots of money for anyone, especially someone with a long track record of demagoguery, to occupy an exalted position in public life.  But Al Sharpton, aided by an outside fundraiser, has a special talent for raising money.  According to National Action Network’s IRS Form 990 statement for calendar year 2014, the group took in nearly $7 million.  That was up from $4.9 million just one year earlier.  NAN has built a reliable donor base whose primary benefactors are labor unions and corporations.  Unions, especially those representing public employees, share the same views as the hard Left.  As such, they don’t need much coaxing to open their checkbooks.  Yet corporations, presumably a good deal more conservative, also have been generous.  The most plausible explanations are:  1) a desire to avoid bad publicity; and 2) an acquired conviction on part of their executives that “diversity” – i.e., a preference for hiring, retaining and promoting nonwhites over whites – is good for company morale and profitability.  National Action Network benefits either way.

That brings us to the organizations and individuals whose funds made possible last week’s convention and “Keepers of the Dream” banquet celebrating the 25th anniversary of the founding of NAN. A number of donors did more than donate; they took out full-page ads in the program brochure.  Home Depot, a longtime benefactor, declared:  “It takes diversity to build a community.  The Home Depot is a proud supporter of diversity among our Associates, our customers, and our communities.”  Another veteran donor, Walmart, proclaimed:  “Walmart is proud to sponsor the National Action Network 2016 Keepers of the Dream Conference.  Thank you for all you do to promote one standard of justice and equal opportunities for all people.  Together, we can help people live better.”  Relative newcomer Airbnb made this pitch:  “Airbnb is proud to partner with the National Action Network to strengthen and empower communities, create new economic opportunities, and fight for justice.”  That's a lot of pride by companies who should know better.

Here is the full list of sponsors, a list that seems to get longer with each year:

32BJ SEIU (Service Employees International Union)

A+E Networks, History and A+E Studios

Advent Capital Management, LLC

AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees)

AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal


AIDS Healthcare Foundation


Amalgamated Transit Union

American Federation of Teachers


Barnes & Noble

Barneys New York


Colgate Palmolive

Comcast Corporation


Davidoff Hutcher & Citron

Davis Polk & Wardell LLP


Eli Lilly and Company

Emmis Communications, Inc.

Erica Munro Kennerly, Esq.

Essence Communications, Inc.


FedEx Express

Forest City Ratner Companies

FOX Television

GE Asset Management


Greenetrack, Inc.

Home Depot

Light of the World Christian Church

Loop Capital

MacAndrews & Forbes


Magic Johnson Enterprises

MasterCard Co.

McDonald’s Corporation

Melissa E. James

Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church

National Association of Investment Companies

New York State Nurses Association


OraSure Technologies

Parsons Family Foundation


Perennial Strategy Group

Radio One

Rev. David Jefferson

RJ Reynolds RAI

Robert Frederick Smith

Ronald O. Perelman

Sean Combs


Siebert Brandford Shank & Co.

Skywalker Properties Limited


Time Warner Cable

University of Phoenix

UPS Foundation


Viacom/BET Networks



That’s a pretty impressive list.  The Reverend Al and his associates at NAN aren’t likely to be hurting for money anytime soon.  What these donations bought, however, isn’t likely to make the country better off.  The event – I attended many speeches and panels – was a celebration of blackness and a warning to those who stand in its way.  White cops, especially those defending themselves from black attackers (e.g., Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin), did not come off well.      

The panel presentations were not so much discussions as echo chambers for National Action Network.  The predominantly black participants did their hosts proud.  One panel, “The State of Criminal Justice Reform in 2016,” was especially representative.  The intersection of race and criminal justice is dangerous territory, arguably more dangerous than ever.  Many blacks in the U.S. really do believe they are targeted by authorities for arrest, incarceration and death.  That blacks commit felonies at far higher rates than whites apparently is an unmentionable fact.  Playing to this view, the panelists ritualistically denounced the “school to prison pipeline,” placing the onus of youth crime on schools rather than on criminals themselves.  The defining presentation came from a white public official, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.  Congratulating National Action Network for 25 years of beneficial work, Schneiderman called upon government leaders everywhere to transform the criminal justice system.  Among other things, he bemoaned the fate of women whose children have been “lost to police violence” and called upon all states to ban employers from inquiring, verbally or in writing, about a job applicant’s prior criminal history.  Another white apeaker, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York City chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, termed America “the incarceration nation.”  She noted that 78 percent of the people in prison are “people of color,” needless to say, without one raising the issue of what these people did that landed them in prison.  After delivering a few more clichés, she announced that she had to leave to attend a demonstration to shut down the city jail at Riker’s Island.  Black speakers also gave the audience what it wanted.  Angel Harris, senior counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, denounced the death penalty as “racist, classist, unjust and geographically disparate.” 


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