But Bloomberg suffered a major setback when New York State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling (I am not making that name up) struck down the law before it could take effect. Now a torturous appeals processes lies ahead.
Staunching the Bloomberg bill was an enormous victory for the beverage industry. But this story is about far more than the failings of a paternalistic politician, about multinationals interfering in public policy, or about rampant obesity in America. It’s also about how many America’s civil rights organizations have been co-opted by corporate interests.
The very day after Tingling announced his decision, The New York Times published a devastating article detailing how “dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations, and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation around the country in recent years.”
It turns out the beverage industry has been lavishing money upon these organizations. According to the article, it has given tens of millions of dollars over the last decade to non-profits that serve African Americans and Hispanics, including: “National Hispana Leadership Institute, scholarships for local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, financial literacy classes offered by the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and programs from the National Hispanic Medical Association.”
It seems all of that spending paid off when two of the biggest civil rights groups in New York City, the Hispanic Federation and the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., repaid the favor by filing an amicus brief supporting the beverage industry’s successful challenge to the Bloomberg’s law. It also echoed the industry’s success from last year, when it spent millions to buy-off African American and Latino leaders in Richmond, California, who joined them to beat back a proposed penny per ounce tax on sugary beverages.
But Coke, Pepsi, and their lobbying tentacles don’t just shovel money on these groups, such as the $10 million they’ve funneled to the nation’s largest Latin@ civil rights organization over the last decade. They also build cozy political relationships. High ranking executives from both companies sit on many of the boards of America’s most prominent civil rights organizations.
What makes this alliance particularly unholy is that African Americans and Latin@s are the demographics most afflicted by obesity. For example, African American women have the highest obesity rates of any group in the country. About four-fifths of them are overweight or obese. And Hispanics have obesity rates upwards of 30% higher than the general population.
Of course sugary beverages are not the sole factor in the obesity epidemic. However, they are indisputably a factor. So to find out that minority advocacy groups, some of which specifically focus on health issues, would side with beverage companies on this issue is beyond dumbfounding. In some cases it represents a profound betrayal of their constituents.
Unfortunately, the soda jerks aren’t the only industry pouring money on civil rights organizations, which then direct policies against the interests of their own constituents. Other industries have done the same thing. Predatory, for-profit, private “colleges” and usurious, legal loan sharking credit operations, both of which disproportionately prey on minorities, have also gotten various civil rights organizations to line up behind them.
Let’s start with the loan sharks.
The victims of various credit scams are disproportionately minorities. But the seamiest corners of the credit industry have thrown money at civil rights organizations and been repaid with support. So lo and behold, we find that Al Sharpton has appeared in TV commercials for LoanMax, which hands out auto loans and charges 300% interest.
Likewise, Jesse Jackson invited the folks at CompuCredit to appear at his Rainbow Coalition/PUSH career fairs and economic summits. CompuCredit has indulged in shysterism so brazen, such as duping people into paying down debts they no longer even owed, that the federal government went after it to recover nearly a quarter-billion dollars of ill-gotten funds. CompuCredit has also gotten into bed with National Conference of Black Mayors and The National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Then there’s the National Urban League, which has conducted financial literacy seminars sponsored by the trade organization representing predatory payday lenders. People taking loans from payday lenders typically payback $800 in interest for every $325 borrowed. Nonetheless, in 2008 the president of that industry’s lobbying group chaired the Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE) Martin Luther King Awards Dinner. No surprised then that CORE National Spokesman Niger Innis testified against a bill that would have banned payday lending in Washington State. The bill failed. CORE also joined the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus in lobbying to overturn mild regulations of payday lending in Georgia.
In addition to soda companies and legal loan sharks, there’s also the for-profit, private college industry. Not to be confused with reputable vocational schools, this is a cadre of publicly traded companies masquerading as schools and preying on poor and working class people desperate to advance in the job market.
Corporations like Bridgeport Education, Corinthian Colleges, and Kaplan Higher Education typically: spend more money recruiting students than on student education; receive upwards of 90% of their revenue from federal financial aid; charge even more for tuition than many elite private colleges; have sky high dropout rates; have low job placement rates for graduates; and leave former students saddled with immense debts, many of them defaulting.
In short, its a $30 billion industry that has figured out how to use America’s poor and working class as a siphon for federal funds: Money flows from the government through the students to private companies. And instead of a valuable education, most students are merely stuck with five-figure debt and job prospects that were no better than when they started.
Since minorities are disproportionately poor, they constitute a large share of the students who are taken advantage of by the most unscrupulous private “colleges.” Rightly, many civil rights organizations have called for tighter regulations of these parasitic institutions.
But not all of them.
When the Barack Obama administration proposed regulating the for-profit “college” industry, Chief Executive and President Marc Morial of the National Urban League opposed it. He even wrote an editorial in The Washington Post claiming that “the rule would have disastrous consequences for those who are at greatest risk of a life in poverty if they don’t obtain a college education.”
As if these are real colleges. Anyway, it worked. The rule was beaten back and these institutions are free to keep bilking the public and screwing over poor and working class people.
So why did Morial do it? Why did he go to bat for these leeches? Most likely because one of those companies, Corinthian Colleges, Inc. gave the Urban League a million dollar donation.
This is of course the same Corinthian College, Inc. that is being investigated by half a dozen state attornies general; that sees two-thirds of its students dropout; and more than a third of its students default on their federal loans within three years.
Wow. Talk about taking your thirty pieces of silver to betray everything you stand for.
Oh, and what about the Washington Post? Why did this esteemed national newspaper, which the Right accuses of being a force for unabashed liberalism, run this patently conservative editorial by Morial? And especially, why did they do so despite Morial’s gross conflict of interest?
Maybe it’s because the Post had its own gross conflict of interest, which it also failed to mention. You see, The Washington Post Company owns one of these private for-profit “college” corporations: Kaplan Incorporated.
Is this really one of America’s great newspapers?
The purpose of this article is not smear civil rights organizations. Many of them continue to do very good political and social work in any number of important areas. Rather, the point is to expose how corporate money infiltrates and corrupts nearly every corner of the American political process, and just how much influence can actually be bought.
When civil rights organizations betray their own constituents in favor of corporations handing them large paychecks, it not only reveals problems with these organizations nearly 60 years after the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also reveals the depth of corruption afflicting the American political system at the federal, state, and local levels. Let us cast out the moneychangers.