How much does your organization’s political action committee contribute to Black lawmakers? It’s a question not often asked—and it should be.
African Americans make up 13 percent of the population and 11 percent of the current Congress. Yet they received only 6 percent of the political contributions in the 2019-2020 election cycle, according to data by GovPredict.
Organizations rightly spend a great deal of time improving diversity in the workforce, philanthropy in the workforce and corporate social responsibility. Political spending can also be looked at through the lens of diversity and inclusion, a great exercise to undertake as we celebrate Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Every organization that runs a PAC should know how much of their spend is going to Black lawmakers and minority legislators in general,” said Jenna Spinks, director of customer success at GovPredict (A Phone2Action Company). “Supporting lawmakers from every community is important. Your circumstances may not call for spending that is completely representative. But every organization should monitor contributions through the lens of diversity.”
An Improving Landscape
Support for Black lawmakers may well be improving as America grapples with problems caused by decades of systemic racism and discrimination that continues today.
When as many as 26 million Americans protested the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police last year, contributions to Black lawmakers increased, according to GovPredict data. From May to June 2020, itemized contributions to Black members of Congress surged by 235 percent, from $3.6 million to over $12 million.
There are also some bright spots in the fundraising landscape. While Black mega donors are rare, according to a 2018 Center for Public Integrity report, many big financial supporters do diversify their contributions. For example, Sheryl Sandberg, the well-known author, billionaire and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, gave more than $300,000 to candidates in the 2019-2020 election cycle through November 23, 2020. Sixteen percent went to Black lawmakers.
Donors like Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks, had even higher percentages.
Many PACs have also been supportive, with scores of them giving 13 percent or more of their contributions to Black lawmakers. Overall, of the 1,400 or so PACs that gave a total of $360 million to members of Congress in the 2019-2020 election cycle, 9.9 percent went to the 61 Black lawmakers now serving in the House or Senate.
Examining Your Record
What can your organization do to diversify contributions?
Start by understanding your current record. The truth is that diversifying PAC contributions is not easy for every organization. Of the 61 Black lawmakers currently serving in Congress, three are Republicans and 58 are Democrats. It could be difficult for organizations that align with Republicans to support lawmakers who champion a different ideology.
However, every PAC can analyze spending through the prism of diversity and evaluate its decisions. What percentage of contributions go to Black lawmakers? To women? To minority lawmakers in total?
“It’s important to know what your numbers look like and why,” Spinks said . “You may choose to make changes or you may not. But it should be a considered decision. If you are doing things a certain way, you and your team should have a solid idea why.”
Of course, financial support is one of many tools public affairs professionals use to build relationships. The ability to raise campaign money has a direct impact on a lawmaker’s career. It can affect committee assignments, party standing, their relationship with leadership and the ability to influence outcomes, both in Washington and back home in their states and districts.
Most important, with the average House and Senate campaign costing multiple millions, every lawmaker must dedicate substantial effort to raising money in order to stay in office. Organizations that help are always appreciated.
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