Cash And Carry




I

n
early February, a headline in the Sun Myung Moon-owned


Washington
Times

read “Bush continues outreach to blacks.” Bill
Sammon reported that President Bush had met in the White House with
hundreds of “black leaders” and told them that his policies
“would help black Americans.” According to Sammon, “The
president’s 15-minute speech in the East Room was interrupted
17 times by applause from an audience that included black clergy,
veterans, business leaders and members of Congress. Among those
in attendance were Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Rep. Melvin Watt
(D-NC), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.” 


This
latest meeting with black leaders is part of an aggressive strategy
by the Republican Party aimed at African American churches and,
through them, black voters, the Democrat’s most loyal constituency. 


In
the 2004 presidential election, the GOP made a slight gain in the
number of blacks voting for Bush—up from 9 percent to 11 percent
of black votes, according to exit polls. They did even better in
the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio. In Florida, Bush’s
support among African Americans in November rose 6 percentage points
to 13 percent, and in Ohio, Bush may have won as much as 16 percent
of the black vote. 


For
the past two decades, GOP leadership concentrated on building a
solid cadre of black conservative organizations and media personalities
that could be counted on to support its agenda. Since the beginning
of the Bush presidency, the emphasis has gradually added courting
black churches to its arsenal. This is being accomplished in no
small part through the handing out of millions of dollars in faith-based
grants to African American churches.  


On
February 1,

Los Angeles Times

staff writers Tom Hamburger
and Peter Wallsten reported on a meeting of more than 100 African
American ministers that were to gather at the Crenshaw Christian
Center, one of Los Angeles’ biggest black churches, headed
by tel- evangelist Frederick K. C. Price. The goal of the confab
was “to build support for banning same- sex marriage—a
signature issue that drew socially conservative blacks to the Republican
column last year.” Abortion and school vouchers are also of
special interest to conservative blacks. 


Hamburger
and Wallsten’s piece, entitled “GOP Sees a Future in Black
Churches: Social issues are binding the party with a group once
firmly in the Democratic camp,” reported that Bishop Harry
R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland
and a registered Democrat, would unveil a “Black Contract With
America on Moral Values…a call for Bible-based action by government
and churches to promote conservative priorities.” The Black
Contract is “patterned loosely” on then House Speaker
Newt Ging- rich’s “Contract With America” that he
introduced 10 years ago “to inaugurate an era of GOP dom- inance
in Congress.” 


According
to the

Pasadena Star News

, Bishop Jackson’s “Contract”
includes “protecting traditional marriage, prison reform, creating
wealth for minorities, and providing healthcare for the poor.”
The High Impact Leadership Coalition, which was introduced at the
Los Angeles meeting, has scheduled six more conferences throughout
the country this year. 


The
Los Angeles meeting was co-sponsored by the Rev. Lou Sheldon’s
Traditional Values Coalition (www.traditionalvalues.org), a Christian
right network of churches with close ties to the White House, RNC
chair Ken Mehlman, and other senior Bush administration officials. 


In
late February, another group with ties to Gingrich will gather in
Washington to announce a “Mayflower Compact for Black America.”
This group plans to organize in key states ahead of the 2006 and
2008 elections. Vivian Berryhill, a longtime Mississippi Republican
and president of the National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses
(www.pastor spouses.com), is one of the leaders of the Mayflower
Compact effort. 


Hamburger
and Wallsten also reported that the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org),
a Washington, DC-based conservative think tank, “will cosponsor
a gathering of black conservatives in Washington designed to counter
dominance of the ‘America-hating black liberal leadership’
and to focus African American voters on moral issues.” 


The
meeting at the Heritage Foundation is being organized by Rev. Jesse
Lee Peterson of Los Angeles, the founder and president of BOND,
the Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny (www. bondinfo.org),
whose purpose, according to its website is “Rebuilding the
Family By Rebuilding the Man.” Rev. Peterson is a longtime
critic of the civil rights leadership in general, and the Rev. Jesse
Jackson in particular. Rev. Peterson, the author of

SCAM: How
the Black Leadership Exploits Black America

, has been a regular
guest on the Fox News Channel and other cable news networks. BOND’s
board of advisors includes the well known conservative economist
Walter E. Williams, Dennis Prager, the right-wing radio talk show
host, and Sean Hannity, Fox’s television personality. 


Rev.
Peterson said that the conference would be aimed at disabusing blacks
of the notion that racism is the cause of their economic and social
problems and that they should begin taking personal responsibility. 


“I
saw black preachers turning toward the Republicans in greater numbers
this election,” Rev. Peterson told the

Los Angeles Times

.
“I don’t know if it’s because they believe in it
or they want some of the faith-based money. Whatever the reason,
they are turning; and as a result of the preachers leaving, many
of the congregations are following.” 


After
months of investigation, the

Los Angeles Times

reported in
January that out of the more than $1.5 billion in federal funds
handed out to faith-based organizations in 2003 African American
churches had received many millions of dollars. Many African American
church leaders had subsequently switched party affiliation in time
for the 2004 presidential election. 


In
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, one
of the “city’s most prominent black pastors,” who
supported both Bill Clinton and Al Gore in past presidential elections,
switched to Bush. His “face appeared on Republican Party fliers
in the battleground state of Wisconsin,” and he endorsed President
Bush “as the candidate who ‘shares our views.’”
Two weeks before the election Bishop Daniels “turned over the
pulpit to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, one of Bush’s
most prominent African American advocates.” 


“We
know what faith-based can do every single day,” Steele told
the congregation, drawing head nodding and remarks of “yes”
and “Amen” from more than 1,000 in the vast sanctuary. 


The

Times

also reported that Bishop Daniels met “with top
administration officials” and also met with “the president
himself.” Later, his church received $1.5 million in federal
funds through Bush’s faith-based initiative.  


“A
Philadelphia church led by Rev. Herb Lusk II received $1 million
in federal funds for a program to help low-income Philadelphians,”
The

Los Angeles Time

s reported. “Lusk gave the invocation
at the 2000 Republican convention and has been an outspoken Bush
supporter.” 


In
South Florida, there is an organization headed by Bishop Harold
Ray, “a longtime Bush acquaintance who gave an invocation for
Vice President Dick Cheney at a West Palm Beach, Florida rally.
Ray’s group received $1.7 million in taxpayer funds.” 



Los
Angeles Times

reporters Wallsten, Hamburger, and Nicholas Riccardi
pointed out, “The money that flowed to Daniels’s church
was part of a broader effort inspired by Bush’s contention
that religious groups can do a better job than government in providing
such services as counseling, education and drug treatment…. 


“The
White House adamantly denies that the faith initiative is a political
tool. But the program has provoked criticism that the GOP is
seeking to influence new supporters, especially African Americans,
with taxpayer funds. Rev. Timothy McDonald of Atlanta, a prominent
black minister with Democratic ties, dubbed the program an ‘attempt
to identify new leadership in the black community and use the money
to prop these people up.’ 


“There’s
no question that the faith initiative—combined with the Administration’s support
for banning gay marriage and promoting school vouchers—has
already helped reshape Bush’s image among some traditionally
Democratic African Americans. And the change in black support
on Nov. 2, though only a two percentage point increase nationwide,
helped secure Bush’s reelection victory. The gains were greater
in battleground states.” 


“We’re
committed to continuing to grow that percentage [of the black vote],
and we recognize that it’s going to require a long investment,”
said Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who the previous
evening kicked off his own outreach meetings with black leaders.
“I strongly believe that if we lay out our policies and lay
out our vision, that we have a tremendous opportunity,” he
said. 


Despite
the vast amounts of money involved, it won’t be smooth sailing
for Team Bush. The

Black Commentator

recently reported on
the meeting of 10,000 delegates from four Black Baptist denominations
that was held in Nashville, Tennessee in January: “Representing
15 million members, the four denominations’ presidents agreed
to move towards a common agenda dramatically opposed to the Republican
administration—and fully in line with the Black Consensus.”
According to the

Chicago Tribune

, the Black Baptists “…declared
their opposition to the war in Iraq and to the nomination and expected
confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.” 


The
Baptists “also called for a higher minimum wage, discontinuation
of recent tax cuts, investment in public education and reauthori-
zation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some provisions of which
are up for review in 2007…[and they] demanded that Bush stop
privatization of prison construction, reinvest in children’s
health insurance and increase global relief for black nations such
as Sudan and Haiti.” 


Lionel
Leach, the Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund- NJ, and a
member of Help America Vote, told the

Black Commentator

,
“New Jersey has the most voter suppression in the country,”
and the GOP has “done everything possible to suppress the Black
and Latino vote.” 


The
GOP strategy is “not to convert legions of Blacks to the GOP,
which would seriously dilute the party’s white appeal and is,
at any rate, an impossibility. The Right’s real goal is to
create the impression of fundamental splits in Black ranks and thus
subvert the credibility of mainstream leaders who hold to the historical
Black Political Consensus. Everywhere, there exist Black preachers
and hustlers who are willing to advance the GOP project. Money does
the trick. Marginal increases in Black votes for Republicans are
welcome, especially in close races, but this is not a battle for
the hearts and minds of Black America. Rather, it is an assault
on the historical unity of African Americans.”





Bill Berkowitz
is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.