In the 2004 presidential election, black voter empowerment groups were upstaged by the fly-by-night America Coming Together. ACT was spearheaded by Steve Rosenthal who convinced major donors that he knew more about black voters than the organizations that closed the racial gap in voter registration and turnout.
In one election cycle, ACT and its partner, the Media Fund, burned through $200 million. The ROI was a Democratic Secretary of State in Missouri. Still, Rosenthal bragged that his high-tech ground operation was a success, but the patient died.
With no accountability, ACT packed up its PDAs and has not been heard from since.
Dr. Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland, is a longtime critic of outside groups big-pimping black voters:
In my book ‘’Freedom Is Not Enough,’’ I wrote that in the 2004 election, Americans Coming Together (ACT), a White Democratic-leaning 527 organization funded by a collection of rich donors like George Soros, went around Black civic and religious organizations and sponsored its own voter turnout drive in the Black community.
Legions of kids with Blackberries showed up in places where the NAACP, Urban League, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Black churches, Black labor unions and local Black civic organizations had worked for years to turn out the Black vote successfully. The result was that not only were many of the Black organizations de-funded, but our strong Black churches and civic organizations were pushed aside to make way for professional canvassers.
Walters has seen this play before:
The Obama campaign is using the same tactics of ACT, financing thousands of young kids coming into Black communities to register Black voters, when from my brief survey, traditional Black organizations who have done this for years have received no funding from the campaign. Now, there are some legal issues here that complicate non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations receiving direct funding from political campaigns and the fact that the Obama campaign has raised more money than the Democratic Party and leaned on 527s not to come into the game. But it seems to me that they could have been worked out to enable the Obama campaign to be an empowerment vehicle for the Black community.
So it was ironic to me that Michelle Obama would urge a convention of Black Baptist ministers to turn out their people to vote – at the last minute in the campaign, with no accompanying funding mechanism – when Blacks have criticized the Democratic Party for years for doing the same thing.
Ironic indeed. The more things change, the more they remain the same.