Many progressives were stunned when a political action committee associated with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president, a person who has continually championed policies that have harmed the black community.
While some members of the CBC such as Congressman Keith Elison have said he and other members were not consulted on the decision and correctly pointed out distinctions between the CBC and the CBC PAC, that so many black politicians would so enthusiastically sell out their own constituents raises serious questions about a group once known as the “conscience of Congress.”
But for those who have followed the CBC’s trajectory over the years, compromising the interests of their constituents by supporting a corporate Democrat likely came as no surprise.
Journalist Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report has been tracking the rightward shift of the CBC for years. Ford notes that, starting in the 1990s and steadily through to today, the CBC has mutated from a force in Congress that reliably opposed powerful corporate interests that preyed on minority communities, to one that does Big Business’ dirty work on a host of issues.
As noted by the Black Agenda Report, members of the CBC have gone to the right on bankruptcy, the estate tax, and even expanding internet access by opposing net neutrality: “Huge telecommunications firms took the lead in buying off Black lawmakers – most notably, AT&T’s successful capture of Chicago congressman Bobby Rush, the former Black Panther, who sold his vote for a million dollars and the promise of a technology center for his district that never materialized.”
Perhaps the clearest evidence of the new corporate-friendly CBC was during the fight to reform Wall Street after the 2008 financial crisis. More traditionally progressive members of the CBC such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters began openly criticizing other members of the CBC for going soft on Wall Street. In some cases, CBC members even went so far as to try and undermine President Barack Obama’s attempts to protect the limited Dodd-Frank reforms.
This is particularly problematic because Wall Street and other groups that back the CBC PAC, like the Mortgage Bankers Association, did the most damage to black communities through fraudulent foreclosures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
The financial services industry has also been involved in discrimination against African-Americans, through predatory loan practices like redlining. Amazingly, members of the CBC fought against the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When the bureau opened, they pushed for exemptions for auto lenders, whose victims of predatory loans are more likely to be people of color.
If members of the Congressional Black Caucus will not fight for poor African-Americans that are getting screwed by bankers, who will?
Today, members of the CBC and the CBC PAC continue to align with corporate interests that often seek to profit at poorer Americans of color’s expense. CBC PAC takes money from the major pharmaceutical companies that jack up drug prices in the US, Walmart which decimates communities, and, of course, a lot of money from Wall Street.
Unlike the numerous corrupt white politicians and their various caucuses in Congress, the CBC often did genuinely serve a collective and conscientious role when it came to serving poorer Americans, particularly poorer Americans of color. This granted the CBC a deserved moral authority in the progressive community. An endorsement or condemnation by the CBC of a particular piece of legislation sent a strong signal about the bill’s credibility and could move the progressive movement as a whole.
Now that authority is being used by members of the CBC to cover for corrupt behavior and disguising a decidedly corporate Democrat as a “progressive.” Which is to say, it is time to re-examine whether the CBC’s credibility is deserved, or to just admit the CBC is nothing but a group of politicians–no more, no less.