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Progressive political observers on Thursday registered the Congressional Black Caucus’s political arm’s endorsement of Shontel Brown in the Democratic primary in Ohio’s 11th district as the latest effort by the caucus—long a defender of corporate power—to stop leftist candidates from making inroads in Congress.
The CBC Political Action Committee announced it was endorsing Brown, chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, over former state Sen. Nina Turner as the former’s campaign surged in fundraising and support.
This week alone Turner was endorsed by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the state’s largest newspaper.
In its statement Wednesday, the CBC PAC said Brown would fight for “affordable healthcare” and highlighted her work improving access to broadband in the 11th district, where Brown and Turner are running to replace Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge in an August 3 special election.
“At a time of rising progressive anger, corporate support may no longer be the boon that some CBC members have long counted on.”
—Gabrielle Gurley, The American Prospect
Turner is a vehement supporter of Medicare for All; a Green New Deal to create millions of green energy and transportation jobs; a taxation structure that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share; and other bold universal proposals she argues would lift up all the people of the 11th district, including its large population of Black residents.
While the CBC PAC claims to work “to increase the number of Black members of the U.S. Congress” and elect candidates who will “champion the needs and interests of the Black community,” its endorsements in recent years have pointed to other priorities, including its strong opposition to proposals like Medicare for All—despite the fact that racial justice advocacy groups including the NAACP, United We Dream, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative have called on Congress to pass such a proposal.
Turner has won the support of a number of members of the CBC, including Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—all progressive lawmakers who refuse corporate donations and back policies aimed at supporting working people and the poor.
Norman Solomon, co-founder and national director of Roots Action, which backs the Turner campaign, said the CBC PAC’s announcement came as “no surprise.”
“Unfortunately, the days of the Congressional Black Caucus as an overall progressive force are long gone,” Solomon told Common Dreams. “The CBC and its PAC now serve corporate interests to an extent that is truly sad, especially in light of how wonderful the caucus was decades ago under the visionary leadership of such progressive champions as Ron Dellums.”
Ben Hauck, a leader in the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus and other left-wing causes in Southern California, noted that the CBC PAC supported Bowman’s opponent, 16-term former Rep. Eliot Engel, in the 2020 primary for New York’s 16th district.
The CBC also backed former moderate Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) over Bush last year, before Bush beat the 19-year incumbent and political dynasty member by three points last year.
Morgan Harper, an attorney and community activist who ran in Ohio’s 3rd district on a platform similar to Turner’s, tweeted that both candidates were passed over by the CBC PAC due to the committee’s desire to protect “the status quo.”
The CBC has previously come under fire by civil rights groups for its close ties to corporate lobbyists and interests, which are apparent in the caucus’s endorsement decisions.
In 2016, racial justice organization Color of Change launched a national campaign calling on the CBC PAC to “address the massive influence of corporate lobbyists and Political Action Committees on its decision-making” after the committee declined to endorse former Rep. Donna Edwards, a progressive CPC member who was running to be the second Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
“According to reports, the decision was largely driven by CBC PAC board member, Al Wynn, the Congressman-turned-lobbyist who lost his seat to Edwards in 2008,” Color of Change told its supporters.
“The lobbyists funding and sitting on the CBC PAC’s board represent companies that are notorious for the mistreatment and exploitation of Black people, including private prisons, big tobacco, producers of highly addictive prescription drugs, student debt holders, and anti-worker companies like Walmart—which is also the country’s biggest gun dealer,” said the group at the time.
Gabrielle Gurley wrote last year in The American Prospect that “some of the Caucus’s most prominent members—Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks among them—are recipients of donations from major corporations and Wall Street,” with Meeks counting among his biggest donors the Blackstone Group, Citigroup, and the Mortgage Bankers Association.
“At a time of rising progressive anger, corporate support may no longer be the boon that some CBC members have long counted on,” wrote Gurley.
Solomon expressed hope the the caucus will eventually “return to its original, profoundly progressive mission,” but said “it has a long way to go at this point.”
The Ohio chapter of Our Revolution, which Turner led after the group spun out of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, wrote that the CBC PAC’s latest endorsement demonstrates that the committee “doesn’t really have the best interest of the people of the 11th district in mind.”
The Caucus and its political action committee are “just trying to stop progressives who support policies that would help all, everyday working Americans,” the group said.