While Democrats scramble to secure the African American community's support post-Obama, Black contractors complain that they are not getting their fair share of the party’s campaign spending.
Among $514 million that Democrats spent on consultants during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, only $8.7 million (just 1.7 percent) went to minorities, according to a June 2014 study by Democratic minority advocacy firm PowerPAC+. Seventeen companies, among 287 approved consulting firms, were minority-owned — or just 5.9 percent.
This report fueled existing anxiety within the African American community over whether Democrats truly have Black people’s best interests at heart. Although 56 percent of Blacks thought the party had become more representative of minorities in recent years, 35 percent disagreed, as a Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN survey discovered last November.
“Democrats are wasting millions of dollars chasing after White swing voters instead of investing the money in engaging communities of color,” said Steve Phillips, founder and chairman of PowerPAC+. The company could partner with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Phillips said. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee already has made reforms based on the study.
America’s population is 13.2-percent Black, according to 2014 Census Bureau estimates, but African American voters are expected to play an outsize role in November’s elections. Eighty percent of Black voters are Democrats. Only 11 percent are Republicans.
Some consulting firms repeatedly prosper. Event Transportation Associates, the go-to transit service for the past two Democratic conventions, seems poised to thrive again this year and partner with diverse local vendors.
The company, which did not reply to repeated requests for comment, last month announced its preparations for the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Janie Hollingsworth, the company’s CEO and majority owner, co-chaired the 2012 convention’s transportation subcommittee, according to her LinkedIn profile. Hollingsworth also provided logistical expertise for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia last year.
The Democratic National Convention Committee declined comment on the company or Hollingsworth, citing sensitive contract negotiations. The committee instead offered a statement by its CEO, Rev. Leah Daughtry.
“It is an article of faith for us that we ought to allow the people who move our party forward to be able to be beneficiaries of the party’s resources,” said Daughtry.
But Vectour Transportation Group, a 2012 convention contractor, lost its bid to return. “Things did not go exactly how we would have liked for them to go this year,” said Reggie Halsam, the Black-owned company’s CEO.
Internal Democratic National Committee statistics show that in 2015, women composed 48 percent of its staff, and nearly 36 percent of its employees were minorities. Also, 23 percent of contracts and 25 percent of total dollars spent that year went to minority-owned enterprises. Twelve percent were African American owned, representing 14 percent of the total dollars spent.
“As for vendors, we have an unprecedented goal of awarding 35 percent of our contracts to diverse companies,” said convention committee spokesman Lee Whack.
Two African American-owned firms are among five major contracts the Democrats’ convention committee granted to minority businesses. There are 500 diverse suppliers and vendors registered to do business with the DNC and other Democratic entities.
Cornell Belcher, president of Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, said the party’s real power and spending are centered in the congressional and senatorial committees, the Democratic Governors Association, and EMILY’s list, where Belcher once worked.
Groups like EMILY’s List (which supports pro-choice Democratic female candidates) face zero scrutiny and accountability, Belcher said.
Meanwhile, Republicans hope to erode Black support for Democrats.
However, the Republican National Committee, which announced in 2013 that it would spend $10 million on minority outreach, did not respond to requests to analyze its own internal and vendor-diversity statistics.
Telly Lovelace, the GOP committee’s director for African American Initiatives & Urban Media, instead spoke of its grassroots-level training efforts to engage the Black community, including African American operatives placed in seven battleground states, and plans to boost hiring into the fall.
Despite several notable departures among minority staffers in recent months, Lovelace denied the Republican headquarters is experiencing a so-called "Black exodus."
Kirsten Kukowski, the committee’s communications director, said organizers are working with more than a dozen minority-owned vendors and have several staffers conducting community outreach.
Richard Dickerson, a Democratic campaign operative, said an important conversation about money and influence needs to occur, because the people who run Democratic campaigns end up in senior government positions.
“They’re going to spend a billion dollars,” Dickerson said. “Ten percent of that is $100 million. If you put $100 million into the Black community, you can see it.”