Corporate Influence:How the Congressional Black Caucus is a Fundraising Powerhouse

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This is a compelling article on a number of levels…First of all it outlines some of the ways money exchanges hands in Washington and for that reason we should always have opportunity to be informed. It outlines all the ways that Washington is wrong and with the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money and resources in election this is likely to get worse…

The fact that the Congressional Black Caucus has always described itself as the conscience of the Congress, makes this story troubling… As you read this story pay close attention to the main people sponsoring them and look at the end result… Whats most glaring to me are the telecoms, AT&T and Verizon who successfully got 3/4th of the CBC to vote against the COPE act which would’ve gotten rid of Net Neutrality which levels the playing field on the Internet. Bobby Rush was at the center of this.. Currently those same telecom firms have pushed even harder and expanding their lobbying efforts to  a handful Civil Rights groups and leaders who have jumped on board to end Net Neutrality.. I urge folks to pay close attention to this alignment because it will have dire effect if left unchallenged and unchecked.

At the same time, one has to question why did the NY Times do a story on the CBC? Was it to expose their influence and the increasing potential for corruption?  Was it to undermine Black lawmakers exercising increasing influence in Washington?   Will CBC become the poster boy for corruption while others skate? Are there other caucuses in congress that play a similar game?  This does not excuse the CBC for any wrong doing, but these are questions we should ask.. In short is this just the tip of the iceberg? Lastly as I mentioned earlier is this a precursor to the way business will be done because of the Supreme Court ruling?

It’s hard not to take into account the current backlash that has been spawned around the country now that Barack Obama is in the White House. Along with the anger and discontent expressed at his policies has come increasing expressions of racial hatred. With an article like this I can easily see racism barring its fangs and folks circling the wagon to the point we overlook any wrong doing by CBC. Protecting one from racial attacks trumps ethics questions especially when we know this country has a sordid history of  lynching burning down cities and making life miserable for Blacks who have accumulated wealth. We saw that during the Obama campaign when we would hear remarks about Obama being ‘uppity’ and needs to be put in his place..

-Davey D-

In Black Caucus, a Fund-Raising Powerhouse

 By ERIC LIPTON and ERIC LICHTBLAU
Published: February 13, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/us/politics/14cbc.html?pagewanted=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

WASHINGTON — When the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to pay off the mortgage on its foundation’s stately 1930s redbrick headquarters on Embassy Row, it turned to a familiar roster of friends: corporate backers like Wal-Mart, AT&T, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company.Soon enough, in 2008, a jazz band was playing at what amounted to a mortgage-burning party for the $4 million town house. 

Soon enough, in 2008, a jazz band was playing at what amounted to a mortgage-burning party for the $4 million town house.

Most political groups in Washington would have been barred by law from accepting that kind of direct aid from corporations. But by taking advantage of political finance laws, the caucus has built a fund-raising juggernaut unlike anything else in town.

It has a traditional political fund-raising arm subject to federal rules. But it also has a network of nonprofit groups and charities that allow it to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations and labor unions.

From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by The New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. (Data for 2009 is not available.)

The caucus says its nonprofit groups are intended to help disadvantaged African-Americans by providing scholarships and internships to students, researching policy and holding seminars on topics like healthy living.

But the bulk of the money has been spent on elaborate conventions that have become a high point of the Washington social season, as well as the headquarters building, golf outings by members of Congress and an annual visit to a Mississippi casino resort.

In 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spent more on the caterer for its signature legislative dinner and conference — nearly $700,000 for an event one organizer called “Hollywood on the Potomac” — than it gave out in scholarships, federal tax records show.

At the galas, lobbyists and executives who give to caucus charities get to mingle with lawmakers. They also get seats on committees the caucus has set up to help members of Congress decide what positions to take on the issues of the day. Indeed, the nonprofit groups and the political wing are so deeply connected it is sometimes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Even as it has used its status as a civil rights organization to become a fund-raising power in Washington, the caucus has had to fend off criticism of ties to companies whose business is seen by some as detrimental to its black constituents.

These include cigarette companies, Internet poker operators, beer brewers and the rent-to-own industry, which has become a particular focus of consumer advocates for its practice of charging high monthly fees for appliances, televisions and computers.

Caucus leaders said the giving had not influenced them.

“We’re unbossed and unbought,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the caucus. “Historically, we’ve been known as the conscience of the Congress, and we’re the ones bringing up issues that often go unnoticed or just aren’t on the table.”

But many campaign finance experts question the unusual structure.

“The claim that this is a truly philanthropic motive is bogus — it’s beyond credulity,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, a nonpartisan group that monitors campaign finance and ethics issues. “Members of Congress should not be allowed to have these links. They provide another pocket, and a very deep pocket, for special-interest money that is intended to benefit and influence officeholders.”

Not all caucus members support the donors’ goals, and some issues, like a debate last year over whether to ban menthol cigarettes, have produced divisions.

But caucus members have attracted increasing scrutiny from ethics investigators. All eight open House investigations involve caucus members, and most center on accusations of improper ties to private businesses.

And an examination by The Times shows what can happen when companies offer financial support to caucus members.

For instance, Representative Danny K. Davis, Democrat of Illinois, once backed legislation that would have severely curtailed the rent-to-own industry, criticized in urban districts like his on the West Side of Chicago. But Mr. Davis last year co-sponsored legislation supported by the stores after they led a well-financed campaign to sway the caucus, including a promise to provide computers to a jobs program in Chicago named for him. He denies any connection between the industry’s generosity and his shift.

Growing Influence

The caucus started out 40 years ago as a political club of a handful of black members of Congress. Now it is at the apex of its power: President Obama is a former member, though he was never very active.

Its members, all Democrats, include the third-ranking House member, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina; 4 House committee chairmen; and 18 subcommittee leaders. Among those are Representative Charles E. Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and Representative John Conyers Jr., chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

There are hundreds of caucuses in Congress, representing groups as disparate as Hispanic lawmakers and those with an interest in Scotland. And other members of Congress have nonprofit organizations.

But the Congressional Black Caucus stands alone for its money-raising prowess. As it has gained power, its nonprofit groups — one an outright charity, the other a sort of research group — have seen a surge in contributions, nearly doubling from 2001 to 2008.

Besides the caucus charities, many members — including Mr. Clyburn and Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri — also have personal or family charities, which often solicit donations from companies that give to the caucus. And spouses have their own group that sponsors a golf and tennis fund-raiser.

The board of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation includes executives and lobbyists from Boeing, Wal-Mart, Dell, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Verizon, Heineken, Anheuser-Busch and the drug makers Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline. All are hefty donors to the caucus.

Some of the biggest donors also have seats on the second caucus nonprofit organization — one that can help their businesses. This group, the Congressional Black Caucus Political Education and Leadership Institute, drafts positions on issues before Congress, including health care and climate change.

This means, for example, that the lobbyists and executives from coal, nuclear and power giants like Peabody Energy and Entergy helped draft a report in the caucus’s name that includes their positions on controversial issues. One policy document issued by the Black Caucus Institute last year asserted that the financial impact of climate change legislation should be weighed before it is passed, a major industry stand.

Officials from the Association of American Railroads, another major donor, used their board positions to urge the inclusion of language recommending increased spending on the national freight rail system. A lobbyist for Verizon oversaw a debate on a section that advocated increased federal grants to expand broadband Internet service.

And Larry Duncan, a Lockheed Martin lobbyist, served on a caucus institute panel that recommended that the United States form closer ties with Liberia, even as his company was negotiating a huge airport contract there.

The companies say their service to the caucus is philanthropic.

“Our charitable donations are charitable donations,” said David Sylvia, a spokesman for Altria, which has given caucus charities as much as $1.3 million since 2004, the Times analysis shows, including a donation to a capital fund used to pay off the mortgage of the caucus headquarters.

Elsie L. Scott, chief executive of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, acknowledged that the companies want to influence members. In fact, the fund-raising brochures make clear that the bigger the donation, the greater the access, like a private reception that includes members of Congress for those who give more than $100,000.

“They are trying to get the attention of the C.B.C. members,” Ms. Scott said. “And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. They’re in business, and they want to deal with people who have influence and power.”

She also acknowledged that if her charity did not have “Congressional Black Caucus” in its name, it would gather far less money. “If it were just the Institute for the Advancement of Black People — you already have the N.A.A.C.P.,” she said.

Ms. Scott said she, too, had heard criticism that the caucus foundation takes too much from companies seen as hurting blacks . But she said she was still willing to take their money.

“Black people gamble. Black people smoke. Black people drink,” she said in an interview. “And so if these companies want to take some of the money they’ve earned off of our people and give it to us to support good causes, then we take it.”

Big Parties, Big Money

The biggest caucus event of the year is held each September in Washington.

The 2009 event began with a rooftop party at the new W Hotel, with the names of the biggest sponsors, the pharmaceutical companies Amgen and Eli Lilly, beamed in giant letters onto the walls, next to the logo of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. A separate dinner party and ceremony, sponsored by Disney at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, featured the jazz pianist Marcus Johnson.

The next night, AT&T sponsored a dinner reception at the Willard InterContinental Washington, honoring Representative Bobby L. Rush, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees consumer protection issues.

The Southern Company, the dominant electric utility in four Southeastern states, spent more than $300,000 to host an awards ceremony the next night honoring Ms. Lee, the black caucus chairwoman, with Shaun Robinson, a TV personality from “Access Hollywood,” as a co-host. The bill for limousine services — paid by Southern — exceeded $11,000.

A separate party, sponsored by Macy’s, featured a fashion show and wax models of historic African-American leaders.

All of this was just a buildup for the final night and the biggest event — a black-tie dinner for 4,000, which included President Obama, the actor Danny Glover and the musician Wyclef Jean.

Annual spending on the events, including an annual prayer breakfast that Coca-Cola sponsors and several dozen policy workshops typically sponsored by other corporations, has more than doubled since 2001, costing $3.9 million in 2008. More than $350,000 went to the official decorator and nearly $400,000 to contractors for lighting and show production, according to tax records. (By comparison, the caucus spent $372,000 on internships in 2008, tax records show.)

The sponsorship of these parties by big business is usually counted as a donation in the caucus books. But sometimes the corporations pay vendors directly and simply name the caucus or an individual caucus member as an “honoree” in disclosure records filed with the Senate.

(The New York Times Company is listed as having paid the foundation $5,000 to $15,000 in 2008. It was the cost of renting a booth to sell newspapers at the annual conference.)

Foundation officials say profit from the event is enough to finance programs like seminars on investments, home ownership and healthy living; housing for Washington interns; and about $600,000 in scholarships.

Interns and students interviewed praised the caucus.

“The internship for me came at a very critical moment in my life,” said Ervin Johnson, 24, an intern in 2007, placed by the Justice Department. “Most people don’t have that opportunity.”

Still, Ms. Scott, the foundation’s chief executive, said that members of the caucus’s board had complained about the ballooning bills for the annual conference. And some donors have asked that their money go only toward programs like scholarships. She blamed the high prices charged by vendors mandated by the Washington Convention Center.

Legislative Interests

The companies that host events at the annual conference are engaged in some of the hottest battles in Washington, and they frequently turn to caucus members for help.

Internet poker companies have been big donors, fighting moves to restrict their growth. Caucus members have been among their biggest backers.

Amgen and DaVita, which dominate the kidney treatment and dialysis business nationwide, have donated as much as $1.5 million over the last five years to caucus charities, and the caucus has been one of their strongest allies in a bid to win broader federal reimbursements.

AT&T and Verizon, sponsors of the caucus charities for years, have turned to the caucus in their effort to prevent new federal rules governing how cellphone carriers operate Internet services on their wireless networks.

But few of these alliances have paid off like the caucus’s connection to rent-to-own stores.

Some Democrats in Congress have tried to limit fees charged to consumers who rent televisions or appliances, with critics saying the industry’s advertisements prey on low-income consumers, offering the short-term promise of walking away with a big-screen TV while hiding big long-term fees. Faced with rules that could destroy their business, the industry called on the caucus.

In 2007, it retained Zehra Buck, a former aide to Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and a caucus member, to help expand a lobbying campaign. Its trade association in 2008 became the exclusive sponsor of an annual caucus foundation charity event where its donated televisions, computers and other equipment were auctioned, with the proceeds going to scholarships. It donated to the campaigns of at least 10 caucus members, and to political action committees run by the caucus and its individual members.

It also encouraged member stores to donate to personal charities run by caucus members or to public schools in their districts. Mr. Clay, the Missourian, received $14,000 in industry contributions in 2008 for the annual golf tournament his family runs in St. Louis. The trade association also held a fund-raising event for him in Reno, Nev.

“I’ll always do my best to protect what really matters to you,” Mr. Clay told rent-to-own executives, who agreed to hold their 2008 annual convention in St. Louis, his home district. Mr. Clay declined a request for an interview.

On a visit to Washington, Larry Carrico, then president of the rent-to-own trade association, offered to donate computers and other equipment to a nonprofit job-training group in Chicago named in honor of Mr. Davis, the Illinois congressman who in 2002 voted in favor of tough restrictions on the industry.

Mr. Davis switched sides. Mr. Carrico traveled to Chicago to hand over the donations, including a van with “Congressman Danny K. Davis Job Training Program” painted on its side, all of which helped jump-start a charity run by Lowry Taylor, who also works as a campaign aide to Mr. Davis.

In an interview, Mr. Carrico said support from caucus members came because they understood that his industry had been unfairly criticized and that it provided an important service to consumers in their districts.

While some caucus members still oppose the industry, 13 are co-sponsors of the industry-backed legislation that would ward off tough regulatory restrictions — an alliance that has infuriated consumer advocates.

“It is unfortunate that the members of the black caucus who are supporting this bill did not check with us first,” said Margot Saunders, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. “Because the legislation they are supporting would simply pre-empt state laws that are designed to protect consumers against an industry that rips them off.”

The industry’s own bill, introduced by a caucus member, has not been taken up, but it does not really matter because the move to pass stricter legislation has ground to a halt.

“Without the support of the C.B.C.,” John Cleek, the president of the rent-to-own association, acknowledged in an industry newsletter in 2008, “our mission in Washington would fail.”

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Obama’s Moment of Truth-Are We Ready to Support or Oppose Him?

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As the Thanksgiving holiday ends, the nation is perched to hear what is being described as President Obama‘s most important speech to date. He will stand before Army cadets at West Point military academy and lay out his plans for increasing troops to Afghanistan to the tune of 30 thousand. He is likely to note that we must go to Afghanistan to defeat a grouped Taliban. He is likely to say we must go to Afghanistan to ‘finish the job’ of subduing Al Qaeda and capturing Osama Bin Laden. Obama is also likely to note that throughout his campaign he had promised that he would withdraw troops from Iraq and direct all attention to America’s ‘forgotten war’ in Afghanistan.

However 8 years after we first entered Afghanistan in response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks, many of the folks who enthusiastically voted for Obama are divided and troubled. Many of the people who came out and voted for Obama were the same people eager for change who had organized or showed up at large anti-war demonstrations when George Bush was in office. They’re looking at a man who was just awarded the Noble Peace Prize and saw this as a symbolic gesture that would give him a good excuse to find a more diplomatic approach to resolving the conflict and abandon the pro-war position they felt he had to take during the 08 campaign.

If folks recall during the 08 campaign Obama was saw his momentum halted when than rival Hillary Clinton sprung the infamous ‘Its 3am Who Do You want answering Phone commercial‘. Inexperience and too weak to stomach the hard decisions around war and conflict is what Obama was slimed with. His response was to come across as more hawkish. After all, it was the ‘weak on terror’ allegations that helped George Bush win his last election and push through all types of legislation and policies that gave him and the military lots of resources, leeway and power. Obama in his response not only promised to bring the war back to Afghanistan, but he even asserted that he would be willing to bomb a country without warning if it meant the US could get the ever so elusive Osama.

While many who voted for Obama understood him taking pro-war stances, what’s troubling is that with a democratic majorities in both the house and Senate and recent polls showing that majority of Americans not wanting us to continue in Afghanistan, why are building up troops? Is the country really in grave danger? Is this about saving face? Is this about political appeasement? According to recent USA Today Gallup Poll numbers 57% of Democrats want Obama to withdraw. Those numbers are being underscored by the recent bill introduced by an early supporter California Congresswoman Barbara Lee who introduced a bill H.R. 3699 that would prohibit funds for any escalation to Afghanistan. Estimates note that it would cost on average 1 million dollars per year per soldier in this new troop surge. Lee thus far has gotten 23 co-sponsors including former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee who earlier last week bestowed a Purple Heart and Bronze star on a Vietnam Vet who still suffers from Post Traumatic stress.

Standing in stark opposition of this are 72% of republicans want Obama to build up the troops and follow the recommendations of General Stanley McChrystal who actually requested and then ‘campaigned’ to get 40 thousand. That republican support or agitation has been amplified by right-wing pundits and talk show hosts who feel that America should be in Afghanistan kicking ass even though everyone from Genghis Khan to the Soviet Union has failed miserably in their attempts to tame this unconquered region.

Perhaps President Obama should challenge those who are eager for this fight to continue in Afghanistan, to stop eating the drums of war and step it up and volunteer their time. That would include talk show hosts like Sean Hannity who are quick to talk this talk but won’t volunteer his time to serve..even as a radio host ala actor Robin Williams in the movie Good Morning Vietnam. At the same time President Obama should let those opposed to the troop build up to not let up the pressure. They should call their representatives and get them to co-sponsor Barbara Lee’s bill.

Lastly Obama should re-emphasize one of his most important campaign points about this his Presidency being for the people by the people-hence all this crazy talk about Obama being in office for only one year and we should give him some time needs to cease once and for all. In matters of war every citizen should be weighing in. After all, what takes place in Afghanistan is being done in our name and with our tax dollars. People should also be reminded that george Bush was only in office for 9 months before he was faced with the 9-11 tragedy and declared his War on Terror. President Obama has been in office for 11 months. His presidency is in full swing.

It’s sad state of affairs, but the War in Afghanistan appears to be war of political posturing and not about war to end terror. How it all unfolds will have a lot to do with the political pressure applied to the President.

-Davey D-

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Hip Hop Caucus Engages Capitol Hill

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The group, the Hip Hop Caucus, has a nine-member Washington office — but its real reach comes from its ability to harness the power of hip-hop artists to put a famous face on issues and draw in their young, multicultural fans. In the next few weeks, the caucus will see a bill it fashioned with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) be introduced — calling for funding for a one-day voter registration drive and lessons on the Constitution in high schools across the country.

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Hip Hop Caucus engages Capitol Hill

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RevYearwoodpanel-225Buoyed by Barack Obama’s election as president, a group of hip-hop artists and other activists is taking to Capitol Hill — trying to harness the wave of support for Obama among young voters into an ongoing political force.

The group, the Hip Hop Caucus, has a nine-member Washington office — but its real reach comes from its ability to harness the power of hip-hop artists to put a famous face on issues and draw in their young, multicultural fans.

In the next few weeks, the caucus will see a bill it fashioned with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) be introduced — calling for funding for a one-day voter registration drive and lessons on the Constitution in high schools across the country.

Organizers are working with Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to gather support for legislation fighting climate change — and singers Solange Knowles and Keyshia Cole have both signed on to help, through the Green the Block campaign.

And the group also reached out to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to get support for prisoner re-entry legislation that would help former inmates transition back into society.

To the group’s executive director, Lennox Yearwood Jr., the link between politics and hip-hop is a natural one — as a way to make politics more accessible to young voters, more like sports than study hall.

“If you have a flier that says something about the economic stimulus package, versus one that has ‘Hip-Hop Town Hall, find out how you get yours’ on it, what’s going to get a bigger draw?” Yearwood said. “That’s the power of hip-hop.”

And the power of Obama.

Rappers have campaigned for candidates before, but the hip-hop community hasn’t been able to sustain the interest or the momentum when the election was over. Obama’s election has led some in the industry to say it’s time for the political side of hip-hop to get more serious.

And already there are signs that hip-hop artists seem to be sticking around this time. The HHC harnessed that creative interest into a get-out-the-vote campaign and used artists like Young Jeezy, T.I., Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, Fantasia, Brandy and Big Boi to get voters to the polls.

Obama got 68 percent of the youth vote, to Sen. John McCain’s 30 percent — with 2.2 million more voters between 18 and 29 turning up at the polls this election cycle compared with 2004.

Some artists — including Jay-Z and Nas — also appeared on the stump for Obama, and there was a hip-hop inaugural ball, a first. The message that January night was clear: Hip-hop has to grow up or be marginalized again.

davidbannerscowl-225“I wanted to use my voice to make sure people were engaged,” said rapper David Banner, who testified in 2007 House hearings on media representation of African-Americans. Banner, a BET hip-hop award winner, pitched in with the Hip Hop Caucus’ Respect My Vote campaign and will continue to be engaged, he said.

“The decisions that we make now politically will affect the next generation and the generation after that. So we have to be involved. By speaking out, I end up speaking for poor people and a larger group all over the country,” Banner said.

First formed in 2004 as an offshoot of P. Diddy’s New York-based “Vote or Die” campaign and Russell SimmonsHip Hop Summit Action Network, the HHC sprung out of the disappointment from that election cycle.

“We voted, and we got die,” Yearwood said, referencing the “Vote or Die” campaign slogan.

Yet politics and hip-hop haven’t always been an easy mix. While the roots of the music and the culture have political undertones — Grand Master Flash’s 1982 hit “The Message” was a searing indictment of the decades-long neglect of urban areas — hip-hop has often been on the outside of politics, looking in.

“The decisions that we make now politically will affect the next generation and the generation after that. So we have to be involved. By speaking out, I end up speaking for poor people and a larger group all over the country,” Banner said.

First formed in 2004 as an offshoot of P. Diddy’s New York-based “Vote or Die” campaign and Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network, the HHC sprung out of the disappointment from that election cycle.

“We voted, and we got die,” Yearwood said, referencing the “Vote or Die” campaign slogan.

Yet politics and hip-hop haven’t always been an easy mix. While the roots of the music and the culture have political undertones — Grand Master Flash’s 1982 hit “The Message” was a searing indictment of the decades-long neglect of urban areas — hip-hop has often been on the outside of politics, looking in.

Bill Clinton criticized rapper Sistah Souljah in 1992 in order to appear more centrist. Vice President Al Gore’s wife, Tipper, worked to get advisory stickers put on some rap records to warn parents of violent and misogynistic lyrics.

Enter Obama. Young Jeezy’s “My President’s Black” was in heavy rotation last summer, and many in the hip-hop generation take credit for Obama’s victory and count him as one of their own. One popular T-shirt has Obama sporting a Kangol cap, Gazelle glasses and a fat gold chain with the tag “Run DC.”

“You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Obama. His face was the universal picture for change,” said Jeff Chang, author of “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.” “But the thing about hip-hop is that it’s been a cultural force and great at mobilizing and messaging — but the political end isn’t unitary or stable, and it’s recent.”

These days, Yearwood, 39, who often sports a Green the Block baseball cap, Hip Hop Caucus pin and clergy collar, is up on the Hill three to four times a week, meeting with elected officials and sitting in on hearings.

Their agenda is a progressive one, centered on health care, education, climate change and livable cities. Yearwood submitted a memo to Obama’s transition team, has reached out to the EPA and the public liaison’s office and is looking to work with the White House Office of Urban Affairs to push its agenda.

“We are giving voice to those who are outside of institutions, folks who are not in college, who didn’t graduate high school; we are able to tap people at the barber shop, on the block and in the beauty salon,” Yearwood said. “We allow their perspective so that voice doesn’t get lost in the discourse.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus served as early mentors for the organization, back when the Hip Hop Caucus was still being confused with a rap group.

Now, 21 members of the CBC are on the advisory panel to the Caucus, which has field teams in 48 cities.

BarbaraLeeofficial-225“The Hip Hop Caucus does an incredible job of connecting young people in urban communities with the political and legislative process,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who chairs both the CBC and the HHC’s advisory panel.

Rep. Andre Carson, who sits on the advisory board and is himself a former emcee, said hip-hop doesn’t get enough credit for creating the climate that allowed for Obama’s ascendance.

Hip-hop “opened doors to build friendships between African-Americans and Latinos and whites,” he said. “America became comfortable with the idea of a black executive because of all the hip-hop moguls.”

But the skepticism about political projects under the hip-hop label remains.

“The music harbors and celebrates a way of behaving that works against a progressive agenda. That’s the contradiction that nobody wants to talk about,” said Tricia Rose, author of “The Hip Hop Wars.”

Yet some counter that members of Hollywood’s elite rarely get the same critique when they take up political issues, although the movies they peddle are often violent and misogynistic.

Counters Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who is a member of HHC’s advisory board:

“Hip Hop does have a ways to go in terms of its image, but the fact is that the artists and the music that they put out is born and bred from the districts we represent.”

Yearwood also is working with CBC members to bring hip-hop artists to the group’s annual legislative conference in the fall. “We need Andre 3000 and Andre Carson connecting,” Yearwood said, referring to the lead singer of OutKast. “We have to be able to move politics from the hood to the Hill and from the suites to the streets.”

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http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0509/22684_Page2.html#ixzz0G9a8BlPn&B

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