NAACP head is paid by tribes, backs their plan- Conflict of Interest?

Please forgive the lateness of this post. But it was the discussion surrounding this issue that prompted the formation of this blog in the first place. So, it seems only appropriate for us to share our thoughts on it with our readers.

Last week the Sacramento Bee reported that Alice Huffman, President of the NAACP’s California Conference was serving as a paid consultant for those who support the Indian Gaming compacts, while at the same time advocating for these compacts as the head of the state NAACP. And according to the Bee this is not the first time.

According to the Bee:

The president of the California NAACP has been paid more than $40,000 in consulting fees – and the organization itself has received $60,000 – from a coalition of Indian tribes at the same time the civil rights group has endorsed four ballot measures pushed by its tribal benefactors.

The payments to Alice Huffman, who has served as president of the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since 1999, continue a three-year pattern in which Huffman’s political firm has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by special interest groups.


Those same interests, including tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, have also donated tens of thousands of dollars directly to the state NAACP while receiving the organization’s backing.

It is commonplace for political campaigns to hire consultants for outreach to various constituencies and ethnic groups. But Huffman’s dual role as a paid political strategist and president of a respected civil rights organization has raised questions about whether the group’s endorsement can be bought.

I have to say that I do know Alice and have found her to be genuinely committed to serving the interests of the NAACP. And I truly do not believe that she sees anything wrong with getting paid to advocate on behalf of a position that she would have advocated for anyway. I have to admit that I can understand the reasoning. However, I would not be as quick to write off the potential conflict of interest as Ms. Huffman seems to be doing in this article.

The first question that came to my mind was, “When advocating for these issues before or on behalf of the NAACP, does she disclose that she is a paid consultant for the group supporting the position she is advocating?” I seem to remember another Black opinion leader, Armstrong Williams being racked over the coals a few years ago for being supportive of No Child Left Behind in opinion pieces and speeches because he failed to mention that he was paid by the Bush Administration to promote the policy. His argument was that he was always supportive of the landmark education policy and was simply being paid to express an opinion which he already held.

I can’t disagree with that. But I will say the same thing I said back then. As an opinion leader, he had an ethical obligation to disclose his contractual arrangement. Otherwise, those who value his “unbiased” opinion would know all the facts. The same can be said of Alice Huffman. Although, as the head of a major civil rights organization and not just an opinion leader, she has an even greater responsibility to provide full disclosure to the NAACP membership and to those to whom she spoke to while wearing her NAACP hat.

On another note: Right or wrong, it is a commonly held belief that many leaders in the Black community can be bought off. One only need consider Jesse Jackson and Al Shaprton’s history of shaking down corporate America to prove my point. Well, it is hard to argue that this conduct by Alice Huffman does anything but further this negative perception. Yes, she has to earn a living. Yes, she has also gotten some of the same groups to also contribute financially to the work of the NAACP. But taking money to advocate a policy and then using your hat as the head of a respected organization to conduct that advocacy just doesn’t pass the smell test.

As a matter of fact, I wonder how many of her current political clients would still be contracting with her if she were not President of the State NAACP?
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I am not mad at Alice for getting paid. I would not have said some of the things she said (see the Gucci handbag comment), but I am not mad at her…

The bottom line: Alice Huffman is a political consultant – she has never hidden this fact the entire time she has served as President of the California State Conference of the NAACP. During her tenure, the California State Conference has grown from a non-existent entity to a significant, substantive organization organizing and advocating on behalf of minority and disenfranchised Californians.

Alice is tough – she comes with a reputation of effectiveness and and ability to “get down to business” with the best of them… and as a protege of arguably the most talented politician to grace the halls of the Capital (Da Speaker, Willie Brown), she has earned her stripes. Plus, unlike Armstrong Williams (whom Craig pointed out in his column), Alice is an advocate – not a neutral observer. Armstrong was putting himself out there as a neutral opinion leader who “happened” to support the No Child Left Behind education policy (I am ashamed to call him my fraternity brother… we can talk about that later). Alice, on the other hand, has NEVER put herself out to be a “neutral” party offering her analysis. She is a paid advocate. She gets paid to persuade targeted publics to believe a particular point of view.

Alice has made it a point to disclose to the members of the State Conference those business dealings that her private firm, AC Public Affairs, that may create even an appearance of conflict with the NAACP. And because of her effectiveness at building an operation – providing coordination, training, development and funding for much needed advocacy programming that generates significant public attention around the efforts of the NAACP statewide – the members are in no hurry to see her go.

As for the contributions to the State Conference from special interests: I get the point that leaders and organizations have a special obligation to ensure that they are above reproach. However, we live in the real world where real actions have real consequences. We live in a world where attacks on civil rights occur almost daily, and where the need for resources is not met by contributions from the community. Across the nation, the NAACP receives money from tobacco, liquor, and corporations like Wal-Mart – and yet has only supported policies and positions which are consistent with the mission of the organization. When have you seen Julian Bond or the NAACP out pimping Lucky Strikes, Schlitz Malt Liquor or Viagra? You haven’t and you won’t – period. And while you will find no instances of the NAACP out pimping for these companies, you WILL find the organization out opposing policies which could be viewed as supportive of such interests – including hitting Wal-Mart hard for its perceived opposition to employee benefits and issues with organized labor. No matter who pays for it, the work still needs to get done – legislation, the courts and the lives of individual victims wait for no one.

The much larger and more important question that should be asked is why such a storied, venerable organization has to look to corporate entities to fund its operations in the first place. Time was, the NAACP was funded by the people to do this important work – the churches, civic organizations, individuals and families. Now corporations have supplanted the community as the ‘bread and butter’ of the organization – a model which does compromise the authenticity of the organization. This is not unique to the NAACP, as other organizations also must look outside the community to fund their operations. With African Americans spending an estimated $630 – $690 billion in earned income in the larger American economy, the inability of African American institutions to significantly access this market to fund ongoing advocacy threatens the gains made by the community over the last 60 years. Without the ability for its institutions to be authentic – to be fully independent of a system it must often pressure for change – the disengagement of the community from its institutions will continue unabated and result in a regression and errosion of the standing of blacks in America.

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David,

Those are all good points. No one is questioning Alice’s ability or effectiveness. But let’s be real! You and I both know that in politics, perception is reality.

The general perception is that most liberal black organizations and their leadership have been bought and paid for. This includes the National and California State Conference of the NAACP. The fact that the state president of the organization is getting paid by special interests to lobby on their behalf only furthers that perception.

If you truly want to know why “such a storied, venerable organization has to look to corporate entities to fund its operations” (By the way you forgot homosexual groups, labor unions and the democratic party), you only need to look at situations like this one. Alice’s actions bring into question the credibility of an organization that already has credibility issues in the eyes of many who once believed in them.

Have you ever considered that maybe the reason why the people don’t give to the work of the NAACP is because they no longer believe that the NAACP represents their interests or values? (A topic for a future discussion.)