- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2004

Division is growing between Democratic-leaning 527 groups and black civic advocacy groups over funding and control of the issues and messages targeted toward the black community in the November presidential election.

The 527 groups — tax-exempt, private political groups named for their Internal Revenue Service filing code — have positioned themselves as powerful players and are siphoning contributions from black voter mobilization organizations that historically have enjoyed a boost during presidential elections.

“This is the first time in the 28-year history of the national coalition that we have had this difficult of a time in raising money to do what we do best,” said Melanie L. Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “There is something wrong when groups who have closed the gap on enfranchisement with our track record and our history of protecting the vote are not getting funding.”

The coalition includes more than 80 black civic organizations dedicated to enfranchising and protecting the right to vote.

Adding to the tension is that many of the 527 groups are run by white organizers, such as Harold Ickes at the Media Fund and Ellen R. Malcolm, who is the president of Emily’s List and runs America Coming Together (ACT) with former AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal.

Earlier this month, coalition board member Ronald Walters, in a letter to Mr. Ickes, said the competition and lack of coordination have bruised some egos in black organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He also referenced ACT in the letter and said the two largest Democratic 527 groups are “taking the black vote for granted.”

He said the 527 groups are collecting contributions in the name of delivering the black vote, something Mr. Walters said they have no business doing and no knowledge of how to do.

“They have not done what I thought they should be doing, which is release resources to black voter mobilization organizations,” Mr. Walters said. “They have husbanded the money and are managing and controlling themselves.”

The Media Fund, another 527, announced Monday that it would spend $5 million on an advertising campaign targeting urban and rural blacks in Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“Our goal is to reach African-Americans using targeted media outlets,” said Anne Walker Marchant, who is coordinating the ad buys for the Media Fund. “The effort is to get the issues in play in the African-American community using print, radio, cable and the Internet.”

But opponents said there is no way they could be trying to tap into the black vote without targeting the Bible Belt states of Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and the Carolinas, which hold more than 60 percent of the nation’s black population.

The fissure was first seen in July at the Democratic National Convention, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson chastised members of ACT and other 527 groups for being afraid to devote their contributions to minority-voter registration campaigns in the South.

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