CBC PAC Has Low Profile at Conference
By Anna Palmer
Roll Call Staff
September 23, 2009
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference kicks off today, but don’t expect to see the CBC Political Action Committee taking an active role in the events that bring together hundreds of people to discuss issues of particular interest to African-Americans.
The CBC PAC, which raises personal and corporate hard dollars, and the CBC Foundation, which attracts corporate soft dollars, are separate organizations.
The CBC PAC didn’t schedule any events because it didn’t want to have even the appearance of trying to use the legislative conference to its fundraising advantage, according to the group’s executive director, Jessica Knight.
“It’s very tricky — a lot of times people get confused about the different entities that make up the CBC,” Knight said. “We are a political action committee and we don’t want to cut into what the foundation is doing.”
But that doesn’t mean the political arm of the CBC is standing down on its initiative to increase its reach into the business community, labor unions and individuals to build up its campaign coffers.
Under the direction of the PAC chairman, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the CBC PAC has an aggressive agenda, which it laid out at the beginning of the year. Most notably, the chairman has set a fundraising goal of $1 million during this election cycle.
The CBC PAC raised $282,250, as of the end of July, according to Federal Election Commission records. During that time period the PAC doled out $10,000 to now-Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) for his April special election victory and $5,000 to Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) after he announced his 2010 Senate bid.
Knight says the fundraising goal is something the CBC PAC is still working toward, even though the economic turmoil has made it harder to attain.
The CBC PAC does not focus solely on contributing to African-American candidates. It looks beyond that to ensure it is a “vehicle to support the House and Senate Democratic leadership,” according to Meeks’ political director, Mike McKay, who is also a CBC PAC board member and a lobbyist at Federal Strategy Group.
McKay is one of several lobbyists who are members of the CBC PAC board that sign off on who will receive contributions from its campaign coffers.
Marcus Mason of the Madison Group, Kimberly Woodard of Wal-Mart and William Kirk of K&L Gates are all members of the group’s board.
Meeks became chairman of the CBC PAC after former Chairman Albert Wynn (Md.) lost in a Democratic primary last year. Meeks has tried to reinvigorate its donor base.
Meeks is uniquely positioned to bring together the business and labor community, according to Woodard.
“He’s easy to work with and his staff is easy to work with,” Woodard said. “People always like to be supportive of him when they can.”
That support was evident in the chairman’s dinner the group held in March. The event was originally slated to raise about $100,000, but the CBC PAC got fundraising contribution commitments of $300,000, according to Knight.
The CBC PAC has been looking to emulate the successful growth of the Blue Dog Coalition’s and New Democrat Coalition’s PACs. To that end, the CBC PAC has instituted a “Chairman’s Circle” for corporate PACs, which has grown to more than 30. For those entities, the group is starting to institute regular policy meetings.
Additionally the CBC PAC held its first retreat in July, which by accounts of those involved was an enormous success, bringing more than 20 CBC lawmakers in touch with about 125 private-sector lobbyists and company officials. The retreat in New York City is expected to be an annual signature event similar to the annual retreats that the Blue Dogs and New Democrats hold.
Some initiatives have taken the PAC longer to implement, including launching its Web site so that it has online donor capabilities and implementing a national fundraising strategy to tap donors in major urban centers such as Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Detroit.
Knight says the CBC PAC’s Web site is nearly complete and should be live in the near future after the board signs off on it.
Meeks’ goal of broadening the scope of the CBC PAC beyond the Beltway has also been stalled.
“I know the chairman wants to move in that direction, but there’s only so much that can be done in the time allotted,” McKay said.