A new political force has emerged that may help advance the economic and wealth-building status of African Americans. The Black Economic Alliance, an organization of leading African American entrepreneurs and executives, announced today that it has already raised $3.5 million to impact highly-competitive gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, and House races in states and districts, respectively, with sizable black populations and where such turnout during the midterm election could prove decisive.
During a press briefing via conference call in which BLACK ENTERPRISE joined other members of the national media, the group also revealed endorsements for a group of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in heated, high-profile campaigns: Stacey Abrams, former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives seeking to become chief executive of that state; Ben Jealous, a former NAACP CEO and tech financier running for the Maryland statehouse; and Richard Cordray, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director during the Obama administration who is seeking to lead Ohio. The group also stated that it will back U.S. Senator and 2016 vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. BEC members say that it will continue raising funds up until the midterms to support congressional candidates in another 10 to 12 contests.
Midterm Election Strategy: Push Economic Agenda
The BEC came together to use their collective power and wealth to elect representatives who will vigorously push an economic agenda for African Americans, which as a group continues to lag behind their counterparts in homeownership, wages, and access to capital for business expansion despite a reportedly robust economy. Operating under the banner “Work, Wages and Wealth for Black Americans,” the organization has a board that includes the nation’s most influential business people, including co-chair Tony Coles, chairman and CEO of biotech firm Yumanity Therapeutics; co-chair Charles Phillips, CEO of tech company Infor Inc. and one of BE’s Most Powerful Executives; Bruce Gordon, a former NAACP head and ex-Verizon senior executive; and Marva Smalls, Global Head of Inclusion Strategy for Viacom who can be found of BE’s top diversity executives roster, among others.
Said Coles during the press briefing: “We’re in a unique position to understand both the priorities of the boardroom and far-reaching consequences of existing economic policies that disproportionately exclude black Americans from accessing good-paying jobs and benefiting from programs that help build wealth in our communities. We want to bridge the gap between the political candidates and the people most impacted by their policies, so we can increase work, wages, and wealth for black people in this country.”
“Black communities in America continue to suffer from institutionalized economic disparities. With 6.7 million unfilled jobs in this country, it’s more important than ever that we invest in black workers and businesses to make the economy work better for everyone,” said Akunna Cook, BEC’s executive director. “But the only way we get there is with a government that is accountable and responsive to the needs of the nation’s black communities when it comes to jobs, pay, and economic opportunity.”
Black-Owned Businesses Provide Financial Muscle
There have been other instances when prominent African American business owners have come together to form political action committees. For example, some 20 years ago BLACK ENTERPRISE Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr. brought together CEOs of some of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses to use their financial muscle to create a PAC to support politicians that would advocate for a larger slice of public contracts and jobs for minorities as well as counter fervent anti-affirmative action measures pushed by conservatives at the time.
At yesterday’s press briefing, Jealous, Abrams, and Cordray told BEC officials that they would tackle today’s issues that hamper the economic progress of people of color. For instance, Jealous, a partner with Kapor Capital, a venture fund that backs diverse startups, maintains that “as a civil rights leader and businessman, I know that building an inclusive economy through broad-based reforms will ensure all working people can provide their families with a better future.” In a tough, contentious battle against Gov. Larry Hogan, an incumbent with a huge war chest, Jealous fully embraces BEC’s backing to gain campaign financing and support voter outreach.
Abrams, who has garnered much national attention and candidly spoken of her roughly $170,000 in credit card and student debt—which she says has helped her identify with a multi-generational constituency that has faced the same struggles of caring for elderly parents and trying to pay off educational expenses—says she’ll use BEC’s support to promote her message to “work to strengthen our economy of all working people across Georgia, but there is no question it will take direct engagement and a strong vision for addressing historic imbalances that have hurt our black communities in particular.”