October 24, 2017; New York Times
Black corporate executives have been meeting since July to explore a PAC that advances their political and social agenda. One of the main organizers, Charles Phillips, chief executive of the software company Infor, said, “What we’ve been doing is just writing checks for years, and we don’t know what happened” once the money was received. “We’ve got to learn from the Koch brothers, do what they do, have them sign pledges.”
According to a recent article in the New York Times, the black executives have been meeting with politicians of color, including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, and former attorney general Eric H. Holder, Jr., as well as think tanks to refine their position.
New York Times’ Kate Kelly wrote about the initial meeting in July.
It was a crystallizing moment. Many attendees had long been part of an informal group of friends and associates who raised money for philanthropies or policy issues on an ad hoc basis. At the dinner, they decided it was time to use their wealth and stature in a more formal way.
Over the last two years, the group has increasingly stepped into national debates about race and equity. In response to police shootings of black people, “the group raised $1 million in 48 hours to fund a police reform initiative.” They also supported Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier this year after Trump criticized him for stepping down from his American Manufacturing Council in response to the president’s comments after the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. While the number of black senior executives is relatively small, the group is “adept at mobilizing money and support for causes dear to them.”
Though the group is still forming and many do not see their mandate as one that narrows down to race, participants are focused on access to education and employment and voter participation.
Marva Smalls, global head of inclusion strategy for Viacom and one of the main organizers, notes that the election of Trump as president was an “inflection point.” She said, “We have now entered more the ranks of corporate America with the financial wherewithal, with the thought leadership, to now engage around the issues.” The work now is “defining a narrative, politically, that matters to our community.”
The core organizers, about 10, meet every other Sunday in Manhattan. “They plan to create three structures: a ‘super PAC’ to run political ads or host events; a federal PAC to support candidates; and a 501(c)(4) group, or social welfare nonprofit, that will do a mix of the two.”
As the group doesn’t plan to be narrowed down to race, it also does not pledge loyalty to any particular political party. Instead, it will support candidates who advance its agenda. It plans to reach out to about 100 “black executives, lawyers and other professionals who attended the July dinner.”
The group is currently hashing out priorities, differences, and best legal structure, and plans to launch in 2018, “creating a new fund-raising model for corporate executives of color.”
Tony Coles, head of the biotech firm Yumanity Therapeutics, said, “As African Americans have advanced in business, and assumed important positions across the board. I think we are finding our way to adding to or extending what many of our forebears have done. And in a sense, it’s our turn now, to contribute to this kind of leadership.”—Cyndi Suarez