WASHINGTON — The first backlash from a decision by the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus to not endorse Maryland Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards' Senate run began Monday with a tersely-worded email statement from the national grassroots organization Color of Change.
In an email blast to more than 1 million of its supporters, Color of Change began by saying the CBC PAC "claims to speak for Black people but is really a mouthpiece for corporate power."
"The lobbyists sitting on the CBC PAC’s board represent the worst of the worst — companies that are notorious in the mistreatment and exploitation of Black people," Color of Change said in the email, which was still being sent to its supporters Monday but was already causing a stir among black Democrats inside the Beltway. "The depth of corporate influence over the CBC PAC is so troubling because its endorsements carry the name of the Congressional Black Caucus, trading off a name that is wrapped in the moral authority of the civil rights movement."
Earlier this month, Politico reported that the PAC felt "uncomfortable giving Edwards a nod of support after hearing from local elected African-American officials in Maryland."
Edwards Democratic opponent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who represents Maryland's 8th district, is popular with many elected officials in the state, even drawing the support of Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, who is from Edwards' district.
Color of Change singled out Al Wynn, who lost his seat in Congress to Edwards in 2008.
"Black voters ousted Wynn for his corporate ties back in 2008 but thanks to the corporate board of the CBC PAC, he is still speaking for Black people," the email reads. "If corporate lobbyists on the CBC PAC's board can decide to withhold support from someone like Rep. Edwards, why are they being allowed to operate under the banner of the Congressional Black Caucus?"
Sources who spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity echoed a common refrain Monday: Finally, someone had responded to the CBC PAC's refusal to endorse Edwards, which angered some of Washington's black Democratic elite.
One Democrat familiar with inner workings of the CBC and its PAC said the PAC's endorsement of Clinton, but not Edwards, shows a level of hypocrisy, given Clinton's up-and-down history with black people in the U.S., including how tough-on-crime laws and housing and welfare reform affected black communities.
"The Clintons convinced black voters to love them while simultaneously advocating for and pushing policies that have decimated communities of color," the Democrat said, expressing anger. "In terms of presentation and style they draw you in and make you feel like you're the only person in the room. It's laughable that black people fall in love, but in reality he advocated some really harsh policies."
"Meanwhile, you're actively choosing not to endorse a fellow colleague, who is in a winnable position," the source continued. "Her and Van Hollen are neck-and-neck. How do you not endorse someone who is from a black community who she can help advocate in the Senate. I don't get it. I don't know how that adds up to what your stated mission is?"
The official endorsement comes with a maximum contribution of $5,000.
CBC Executive Director Benjamin Branch said the PAC had no comment at this time.
Edwards declined comment through a spokesperson.
Here's the letter Color of Change is sending to members of the CBC:
Dear Congressional Black Caucus Member,
I am writing to ask you to take action to restore the reputation of the Congressional Black Caucus by pushing for changes to the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee that would end the dominance of corporate lobbyists in its decision making. The board should be led by people accountable to Black folks, including elected officials and representatives from organizations representing the interests of Black people, not lobbyists paid to wield corporate power. I'm also asking you to insist that the board cut ties with the private prison lobbyists, the tobacco industry, and the National Restaurant Association, just three of the worst corporate sponsors of the PAC.
Black people have struggled for centuries to build political power that represents their interests in the face of deep racial inequalities. One of the most challenging obstacles to Black political power has been the increasing power that corporations wield in the political process through political contributions and lobbying. I was appalled to learn that the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee (CBC PAC) is yet another example of the expansion of corporate power at the expense of Black people.
Although its name indicates that the CBC PAC is lead by elected Black leaders, its board is dominated by corporate lobbyists. In addition, the CBC PAC is largely funded by corporate lobbyists and Political Action Committees. Between donors and board members, the committee is under the influence of some of the companies and industries with the worst track records of abuse and exploitation of Black people.
As you know, the Congressional Black Caucus has been known as the 'Conscience of the Congress' for decades. When it represents the interests of Black communities, it can be a moral force driving the nation in the direction on inclusion and equality. However, with its political action committee under corporate influence, it becomes a shell for business interests that have no commitment to Black folks.
Please act now to rally your colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to end the the corporate dominance of the CBC PAC board.