Is Bush Stemming Ad Dollars To Black Media?

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) criticized the Bush administration for failing to ensure that minority-owned businesses receive a fair share of the more than $1.5 billion in advertising contracts the federal government awarded between 2003 and 2005.

Kerry says the government has not followed through on a directive by former president Bill Clinton in the year 2000 that requires all federal agencies to increase the number of minority- and women-owned businesses participating in federal contracting opportunities.

According to a recent General Accounting Office report, seven federal agencies spent more than $1.62 billion on media contracts between 2003 and the first half of 2005. Kerry has requested an investigation into how much of the funds were contracted to minority-owned firms.

Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in Washington in September, Kerry says minority entrepreneurs are being “left behind” in obtaining a fair share of federal advertising contracts. “We need to shed light on the fact that this administration doesn’t place a priority on making sure minority small businesses get their fair share of federal advertising contracts,” he says. Calls to Republican representatives for comment were not returned.

Kerry’s remarks come on the heels of a recent agreement between the New York City Commission on Human Rights and more than a dozen CEOs at some of Madison Avenue’s top advertising firms. In September, the agencies agreed to set internal goals regarding hiring, promotion, and retention of all employees within 30 days of signing the agreement. The agencies will report to the Commission annually for the next three years. By agreeing to the terms, the agencies managed to avoid a potentially embarrassing public hearing on the lack of diversity in the industry.

Denise Jordon, managing editor of the Kansas City Globe in Missouri, notes that the black press comprises more than 200 newspapers alone, and that the issue of federal advertising contracts with black-owned media is “critical.” Mike Roberts, chairman and CEO of Roberts Broadcasting (No. 77 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list) in St. Louis agrees. “I don’t think the black press, including black-owned radio stations, is an entity the federal government would want to alienate.”

Carl Kravetz, chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, says mainstream agencies must become more varied in order to reflect the changing demographics of America. “It’s the right thing to do,” Kravetz says. “It will make them better agencies and more skilled at reflecting the concerns of an ever more multicultural marketplace.”

Ted Shaw, director-counsel and president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, adds, “If, in fact, there’s a federal requirement that is adopted which has an impact on African Americans, we’ll challenge it.”