The Congressional Black Caucus PAC announced its endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Thursday, a move that is being widely interpreted as a sign of her deep support from the African-American community. As they made their announcement, CBC PAC officials downplayed Bernie Sanders’ proposals for poverty reduction and tuition-free college as unrealistic, while touting Clinton as a bold leader.
Some of the members who spoke at the event, held at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, anticipated the same kind of criticism that the Sanders campaign has made of some other Washington-based leadership groups that have endorsed Clinton. “We are not from the establishment, we are from the streets,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.
But the Congressional Black Caucus PAC is not the same thing as the Congressional Black Caucus, which is made up of 46 members of Congress. Indeed, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Sanders supporter, made that point on Twitter:
Cong'l Black Caucus (CBC) has NOT endorsed in presidential. Separate CBCPAC endorsed withOUT input from CBC membership, including me.— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) February 11, 2016
Ellison then said in another tweet that “endorsements should be the product of a fair open process. Didn’t happen.”
Ben Branch, the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, told The Intercept that his group made the decision after a vote from its 20-member board. The board includes 11 lobbyists, seven elected officials, and two officials who work for the PAC. Branch confirmed that the lobbyists were involved in the endorsement, but would not go into detail about the process.
Members of the CBC PAC board include Daron Watts, a lobbyist for Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin; Mike Mckay and Chaka Burgess, both lobbyists for Navient, the student loan giant that was spun off of Sallie Mae; former Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Md., a lobbyist who represents a range of clients, including work last year on behalf of Lorillard Tobacco, the maker of Newport cigarettes; and William A. Kirk, who lobbies for a cigar industry trade group on a range of tobacco regulations.
And a significant percentage of the $7,000 raised this cycle by the CBC PAC from individuals was donated by white lobbyists, including Vic Fazio, who represents Philip Morris and served for years as a lobbyist to Corrections Corporation of America, and David Adams, a former Clinton aide who now lobbies for Wal-Mart, the largest gun distributor in America.
The caucus itself, while presenting itself as a champion of progressive causes, has a mixed legislative record. As some reporters have noted, Wall Street and corporate money has flowed to the CBC, through its PAC and nonprofit arms, while a number of CBC members have taken a leading role working with Republicans to chip away at the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
The CBC PAC endorsement comes as Clinton is working furiously to demonstrate that the African-American community stands solidly behind her campaign. Shortly after her crushing defeat in the New Hampshire primary, her campaign hosted a conference call with surrogates who dismissed Sanders as being “absent” on issues important to African-Americans, and belittled his role in Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington as insignificant. Hazel Dukes, the New York state NAACP leader who disparaged Sanders’ role in the civil rights movement, previously helped Wal-Mart in its bid to open stores in New York City after her group received donations from the company.
Not all CBC members have embraced the Clinton endorsement. Speaking this morning on Democracy Now, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a CBC member, said she has not endorsed either candidate in the Democratic primary, and reminded viewers that the CBC “has nothing to do with the” CBC PAC, which is a legally distinct entity. NBC Capitol Hill producer Frank Thorp tweeted that Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., was one of two abstentions on the CBC PAC board.
Top photo: Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., speaks about Hillary Clinton during a news conference at the DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill, February 11, 2016.