June 16, 2008
POLITICS: The Sharpton Shakedown
There are few more reprehensible people in American politics than former Democratic presidential and Senate candidate Rev. Al Sharpton, a man whose litany of public sins and scandals stretches from slander to anti-Semitism to theft to tax evasion to incitement of lethal riots and deadly arson. By Sharpton's own admission in response to a federal investigation that resulted in a raid of his offices in December, "I have probably been under every investigation known to man and I can't remember a time that I've not been under investigation." No decent person would embrace this man.
Of course, Sharpton played his own role in this year's Democratic primaries, playing the 'bad cop' who darkly threatened disorder and litigation if the DNC ruled in favor of Hillary Clinton on the disputed Florida and Michigan delegations. These were not idle threats, as many establishment Democrats recall how Sharpton's falling-out with a pair of white Democrats who had defeated minority candidates in racially-divisive primaries (Bob Abrams, who beat Sharpton in the 1992 Senate primary, and Mark Green, who beat Fernando Ferrer in the 2001 Mayoral primary) contributed to their defeats in the general election. Of course, the DNC caved, awarding Hillary her Florida delegates but effectively handing the nomination to Obama with its ruling on Michigan; mission accomplished. And Gothamist notes that Sharpton's National Action Network does not lack for friends, or at least supplicants, in high places in the Democratic establishment:
Sharpton's organization, a non-profit founded to promote black civil rights, holds a yearly, influential conference in April (last year a who's who in the Democratic party attended, from former President Bill Clinton to Senator Barack Obama, from Senator Hillary Clinton to DNC chair Howard Dean) and attracts corporate sponsorship.
Given his background, the latest news on Sharpton, via an investigation by the New York Post, should surprise absolutely nobody, but it's an instructive look nonetheless in Sharpton's business as usual.
As the Post notes, Sharpton has skillfully parlayed his record of threats of boycotts and bad publicity into a torrent of cash from corporate America. It's highly unlikely that the many respectable companies named in the piece are stocked with admirers of Sharpton's work, given how frequently his efforts are wrong, irresponsible, immoral, illegal and/or dangerous. Instead, it's quite clear that these corporations have quite reasonably calculated that paying off Sharpton is a cost of doing business:
In November 2003, Sharpton picketed DaimlerChrysler's Chicago car show and threatened a boycott over alleged racial bias in car loans.
"This is institutional racism," he bellowed.
In May 2004, Chrysler began supporting NAN's conferences, which include panels on corporate responsibility and civil rights and a black-tie awards dinner to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Last year, Sharpton gave Chrysler an award for corporate excellence.
In 2003, Sharpton targeted American Honda for not hiring enough African-Americans in management.
"We support those that support us," wrote Sharpton and the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, president of NAN's Michigan chapter, in a letter to American Honda. "We cannot be silent while African-Americans spend hard-earned dollars with a company that does not hire, promote or do business with us in a statistically significant manner."
Two months after American Honda execs met with Sharpton, the carmaker began to sponsor NAN's events - and continues to pay "a modest amount" each year, a spokesman said.
A businessman who hired Sharpton as a consultant says the flamboyant leader skillfully persuades CEOs by wielding the statistic that African-Americans spend $738 billion a year.
"His way of doing things was, 'If we're going to support you and you're not going to support us, then we have to focus on telling the African-American community not to spend their money,' " said La-Van Hawkins, a partner in Hawkins Food Group, which owns and operates fast-food franchises nationwide.
Hawkins spoke from the Yankton Federal Prison in South Dakota, where he's serving time for attempted bribery.
After Hawkins lost an attempt to sue Burger King in 2000 for denying him franchises, he sent Sharpton, attorney Johnnie Cochran and a Miami lawyer to meet with the company's top execs.
"They ended up settling with me for $31 million," Hawkins said.
Sharpton did not get a cut, but Hawkins Food Group paid him an annual $25,000 fee, Hawkins said. He said he has donated "over $1 million" to NAN.
Sharpton has snagged other gigs as a consultant. Less than a year after he threatened to call for a consumer boycott of Pepsi in June 1998 because the company's ads did not portray African-Americans, the company hired him as a $25,000-a-year adviser until 2007.
Sharpton made the same complaint against Macy's in 1998. The company appointed Sharpton an unpaid adviser on diversity, but also funds NAN's annual conference. Last week, Macy's Senior Vice President Ed Goldberg praised Sharpton as "the kind of guy you can sit down and talk to."
In a dramatic flip-flop, Sharpton in 2000 blasted New York developer Bruce Ratner for paying low wages to workers at his Atlantic Mall in Brooklyn.
"We will not allow you to enslave our communities, Mr. Ratner," Sharpton told a rally. "You must meet with us - you must come to terms with the poverty you are creating using public dollars."
By 2004, the developer's company, Forest City Ratner, had begun to fork over thousands of dollars to NAN. Sharpton now strongly supports Ratner's proposed Atlantic Yards project, which includes a new arena for the New Jersey Nets.
"Just because Pepsi and other companies had me on their board advising them didn't mean that I wasn't blasting them all the time," said Sharpton.
"Look at Forest City Ratner. I blasted them and they came up with one of the best community agreements for blacks and Latinos."
And of course, NAN is now under investigation:
NAN, a tax-exempt nonprofit, closely guards its corporate largesse. Most companies also keep the sums secret, and some would not divulge them. The corporations interviewed by The Post viewed their relationships with NAN as friendly and beneficial.
Anheuser-Busch states on its Web site that it gave the group "between $100,000 and $499,000" last year.
Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found NAN had failed to file years' worth of financial reports. The group has filed more records, but the AG's office said it won't release them pending the US attorney's probe.
In its 2006 IRS filing, the latest available, NAN reported about $1 million in contributions and $1.1 million in expenses and programs. It owes the IRS $1.9 million in payroll taxes, The Post has learned.
While it's encouraging when companies stand up to the likes of Sharpton, it's understandable that many of them prefer the modest (to their shareholders) cost of buying him off. But political 'leaders' who were genuinely serious about Hope and Change and reforming the old, business-as-usual ways of corruption and racial divisiveness would have nothing to do with the likes of Sharpton. Certainly, if anyone has the juice with the African-American community to stand up to Sharpton, it is Barack Obama. Is that too much to ask? Or will Obama add Sharpton to the list of friends, associates and allies he 'never really knew'? Stay tuned.
After eight wasted years, Crank wants to put Al Sharpton at the top of this list. Next you'll be comparing Jesse Jackson's numbers in South Carolina to Obama's -- oh yeah Bill Clinton already beat you to it. The next president of the United States is going to be a black man -- deal with it!
This has little to do with color and everything to do with the fact that Al is a con-artist and scum. Deal with that - and the sooner you do the better.
Sharpton is really the vilest pigs alive, and it's a shame MSM sources - left AND right - give this man even a scintilla of credibility. The next time they show his face on tv, I'd love for Steven Pagones to be there.
Yawn. Let's play guilt by association....the corrupt Keating, the "meshugah" Hagee, the perniciously dumb Parsley, the adulterous Cindy McCain, and my favorite....drumroll please....its great to watch the tapdance away from, no back towards, no away from...Bush. Sharpton's a caricature and will have infinitely less placement in the general election narrative than all of the above. Yawn.
If you don't want to hold Sharpton against Obama, feel free. But loathing Sharpton is also rather an end unto itself, especially for anyone who's a part of New York politics.
Wasted years, eh?
Foreign Policy: Let's see. No attacks since 9/11. Improved relations with France, Germany, India, Japan. Killing Saddam. Killing AQI.
Environment: It's Congress that refuses to drill, insists on taxing the very businesses that have incentives to find alternative resources, and buys into the hysteria of humanity-caused global warming that is already being discredited.
Taxes: Yes, it's a shame to return money to the people who earned it. And more people pay no taxes under this administration than ever before.
Health Care: This is Bush's fault, how?
Social Securty: This is Bush's fault, how?
Homeland Security: You're kidding right.
Immigration: This is one area that the administration has not delivered on. But it has tried and tried and tried. It takes Congress's cooperation as well.
I agree with most of your takes, per14.
But only if GWB's successes are looked at through the prism of his constituency.
Foreign Policy: Was able to use his foreign policy exploits to provide billions of dollars to be moved from the US Treasury to well-connected constituents (i.e Bechtel, Halliburton, Blackwater, Exxon-Mobil, and other war profiteers.)
Environment: Reduced the costs of businesses to meet environmental regulations by loosening these regulations and gutting the EPA of scientists and enforcement agents, replacing them with political hacks.
Taxes: Reduced taxes on the richest of the rich.
Healrthcare: His Medicare plan was a huge boon to the coffers of Big Pharma. By not pushing for a comprehensive healthcare plan for all members of society, allowed the HMOs and other healthcare businesses (middlemen) to continue to reap economic benefits on the backs of the sick and infirm. Success
Social Security: Oops. Wasn't able to privatize SS, which would have led to a huge financial boon to the banks and other financial corporations. Believed to be about 2% of the overall cost of SS.
HUGE Failure, and one that should not be undersold.
Homeland Security: Again a great boondoggle, which has moved the remnants of the US Treasury into the pockets of his well-connected constituents, while providing employment security to well-connected political hacks.
Immigration: Another rousing success. Made sure no action could be taken which would obstruct corporations from receiving cheap labor. Added benefit: assures continued xenophobia on the parts of some sections of the population, who will continue to vote for the GOP (i.e. the base).
Huge Success, even though it was a tricky proposition--doing the job for his constituents, while not pissing-off the "base" too much.
So there you have it. "Wasted years"? Hardly. The 8 years of this country under GWB have been a rousing success for his (and the GOPs) constituents.
For the other 295 Million citizens? Not so much, but that's not who we're talking about here, is it?
"If you don't want to hold Sharpton against Obama, feel free. But loathing Sharpton is also rather an end unto itself, especially for anyone who's a part of New York politics."
Agreed. He really is reprehensible.