- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2001

In 1971, the Rev. Jesse Jackson founded Operation PUSH, or People United to Save Humanity. In 1978, he changed the meaning of the PUSH acronym to People United to Serve Humanity. He should have changed it to People United to Shakedown Humanity. After all, for more than two decades Mr. Jacksons tactics have resembled what one wag recently called "an old-style protection racket." Thats a long way from Mr. Jacksons description of his actions i.e., tearing down the walls of "economic apartheid" but it is much closer to the truth.

In late 1980, when Mr. Jackson had to know that his federal gravy train of misspent grants was about to run dry with the election of Ronald Reagan, he entered the private sector. Mr. Jackson approached Coca-Cola, seeking what he euphemistically described as "proportional representation," "fair share" and "parity." When "negotiations" failed to proceed at a pace acceptable to Mr. Jackson, the reverend announced at PUSH´s convention in July that there had been a "withdrawal of enthusiasm" for Coke´s products. Just so that Coke got the real message, the sloganeering reverend hollered, "Don´t Choke on Coke!" undoubtedly repeating the refrain with the enthusiasm that had heretofore been reserved for Coke´s sugar water. Needless to say, Coke caved within two weeks. And a crusade was born, only this one would prove to be much more profitable than preaching.

The next year the reverend took his road show to St. Louis, where he promoted a new PUSH subsidiary the International Trade Bureau. In typically Jacksonian parlance, which conveniently reinforced his charges of "economic apartheid," the inveterately rhyming preacher demanded "trade, not aid." In Mr. Jackson´s vision, the International Trade Bureau would comprise black companies seeking to do business with major corporations that signed what amounted to "protection-racket" or "shakedown" agreements with PUSH. The target in St. Louis was Anheuser-Busch Co., which Mr. Jackson planned to boycott.

Demonstrating that he was an equal-opportunity shakedown artist, Mr. Jackson charged black companies a $500 admissions fee to join the International Trade Bureau. "If you want to play," Mr. Jackson coldly explained to prospective members, "you have to pay." In response, the St. Louis Sentinel, a black-owned weekly that recognized an opportunistic interloper when it saw one, wrote an editorial titled "Rev. Jesse Jackson Minister or Charlatan?" The editorial accused Mr. Jackson of being "self-serving and defrauding the black community." The reverend´s fund-raising pitch to black businesses was, the Sentinel charged, "a kickback approach to the black community." Explaining the Sentinel´s position, co-publisher Michael Williams told Steve Miller of The Washington Times, "Anheuser-Busch was a good corporate citizen. We questioned motives. We had black business owners who were really offended that Mr. Jackson would want money to go after this company." Mr. Jackson responded with a $3 million libel suit, which was dismissed after he refused to open his financial books. The president of the St. Louis Urban League said Anheuser-Busch had been "fantastic corporate citizens." Nevertheless, Mr. Jackson called for a boycott, using the slogan, "This Bud´s a dud."

More recently, Mr. Jackson´s confrontational shakedown tactics have been deployed against the broadcast, telecommunications and high-technology industries. Mr. Jackson explained why he focused on the telecommunications industry: "It´s where the most money was." Not surprisingly, lots of that money has found its way into the coffers of the reverend´s network of organizations and into the pockets of his wealthy friends, who are only too happy to donate some of their proceeds to Mr. Jackson´s organizations. The primary beneficiary of this double dose of largess has been Mr. Jackson´s so-called Citizenship Education Fund (CEF), which had been headed by his $120,000-per-year mistress, who, inconveniently for the reverend´s image, bore his illegitimate child in 1999. Subsequently, the CEF forked over nearly $40,000 in tax-exempt funds, in part to relocate Mr. Jackson´s mistress from Washington to California.

In 1997, Viacom wanted to sell 10 radio stations to two companies for more than $1 billion. In a profitable move that Mr. Jackson would repeat time and again, he petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block the deal. Viacom got the message and gave the CEF nearly $700,000.

When Ameritech and SBC announced their intention to merge in 1998, Mr. Jackson protested to President Clinton and the FCC, describing the merger, according to the Los Angeles Times, as "antithetical to basic democratic values" and asserting it was detrimental to low-income customers. The two Baby Bells got the message. They donated $500,000 to the CEF. When Ameritech was forced to divest its cellular phone business, it sold a 7 percent stake in the $3.3 billion venture to Chester Davenport, an black businessman worth about $100 million and a major longtime contributor to Mr. Jackson´s network. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Mr. Davenport put up $60 million for his 7 percent stake. Although he had no telecommunications experience (he made his fortune testing auto emissions), Mr. Davenport was named chairman of the board of the new venture. Needless to say, Mr. Jackson withdrew his opposition and declared the Ameritech-SBC merger to be in the "public interest."

In 1999, when AMFM Inc. and Clear Channel Communications announced their merger intentions, Mr. Jackson interjected himself on behalf of minority broadcasters who wished to purchase any radio stations that would be divested from the merged company. As it happened, Inner City Broadcasting is controlled by longtime Jackson friend Percy Sutton, finance chairman of the 1988 presidential bid and current director of CEF, bought nine stations in major markets. It also happens that Mr. Jackson and his wife, Jacqueline, having invested $10,000 in Inner City Broadcasting stock in 1977, now own shares valued, according to Mr. Sutton, at $1 million. The stock has increased in value as the firm has more than doubled the number of radio stations it owns in recent years, a result of Mr. Jackson´s tireless efforts to require merging companies to sell stations to minority firms.

Mr. Jackson also vociferously objected to the proposed merger of CBS and Viacom, arguing that the law prohibited a company from owning two television networks. Viacom owns the relatively new UPN network, which directs much of its programming to black audiences, leading Mr. Jackson to propose that the merged company spin off UPN to a minority owner. He even had a few suggestions, including surprise! his buddies Chester Davenport and Percy Sutton, both of whom he escorted to a meeting with CBS chairman Mel Karmazin. How, one wonders, would Mr. Sutton´s purchase of UPN affect the value of Mr. Jackson´s stock in Mr. Sutton´s company? Meanwhile, Viacom contributed nearly $400,000 to CEF´s coffers.

In 1999, Mr. Jackson also criticized the proposed merger between AT&T and TCI until Blaylock & Partners, a minority investment bank, was hired to handle an $8 billion bond offering. Subsequently, AT&T contributed $425,000 to CEF and Blaylock donated $30,000. Predictably, Mr. Jackson withdrew his opposition to their merger.

When GTE and Bell-Atlantic announced merger plans, Mr. Jackson, according to the New Republic, demanded from the FCC that the new company "include a stronger commitment to Internet and technology training targeted to the minority community." After GTE and Bell-Atlantic each paid $500,000 to Mr. Jackson´s CEF, he blesses their union. Verizon, the new company formed by the merger, seemed so grateful that it threw another $300,000 into Mr. Jackson´s CEF coffers.

What happens when you don´t play ball with Mr. Jackson? Consider the experience of T.J. Rodgers, the pugnacious president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor Corp., who would not allow the reverend to bully him into submission when Mr. Jackson visited Silicon Valley on a fund-raising mission. For denying that Silicon Valley was a bastion of discrimination and racism, Mr. Rodgers was labeled a racist, and Mr. Jackson´s local office declared, "We can now officially describe Cypress Semiconductor as a white supremacist hate group." Mr. Rodgers offered this assessment of the reverend´s modus operandi: "It´s a shakedown," he told the Los Angeles Times. "The basic shakedown mechanism is: He declares racism based on dubious statistics. Then he gives you a chance to repent. And the basic way is to give Jesse money. The threat is you´ll be labeled a racist if you don´t."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide