One of the more odd aspects of this presidential campaign was the emergence of Rev. Al Sharpton as a mainstream political candidate. Sharpton first rose to national prominence as an advocate of Tawana Brawley, who hoaxed people into believing that she was raped and mutilated by a gang of white yuppies in New York. Sharpton at one point accused a prominent lawyer of being one member of the gang before a court ruled that Brawley had concocted the whole incident. While such an embarrassment would ruin others, Sharpton instead continued to grow in stature as a representative of the African-American community, albeit from the fringe — at least until 2003.
Thanks to an extremely sympathetic media, Sharpton’s candidacy for the presidency received little critical commentary; in fact, his bid was given more credibility than that of Carol Mosely-Braun and Dennis Kucinich, who at least had run and won elections in the past. The media sought out Sharpton to weigh in on issues, keeping his visibility and credibility high. Eventually Sharpton started the Howard Dean collapse by slamming him for minority representation in his Vermont administration, a charge which left the former governor dumbfounded and unable to respond. (Vermont’s African-American community amounts to less than 1% of the overall population, making the charge something of a cheap shot.)
After losing the primary race, Sharpton campaigned instead for John Kerry, making numerous appearances on Kerry’s behalf. In fact, Sharpton gave one of the most impassioned speeches at the Democratic Convention, running over his time in order to break Kerry’s rules and personally attack George Bush. Voters defiinitely received the message that Al Sharpton represented the black community, and that Sharpton believed in John Kerry.
Unfortunately, that message was bought and paid for by the DNC. According to the Village Voice and AP’s Nedra Pickler, the Democrats paid over $86,000 in fees and expenses to Sharpton to flack for the eventual loser, an unprecedented act:
The Democratic National Committee paid Sharpton $86,715 in travel and consulting fees to compensate for his campaigning for Kerry and other Democratic candidates, according to reports to the Federal Election Commission. …
n an interview with The Associated Press, Sharpton said he was paid for travel and he didn’t know how much he had been reimbursed.
“They asked me to travel to 20 or 30 cities to campaign, and I did that,” Sharpton said. “What am I supposed to do, donate the cost of air fare?”
But records show that while most of the money was to reimburse travel expenses, Sharpton was paid $35,000 as a “political consulting fee” 15 days after the election. The consulting fee was first reported in this week’s edition of the Village Voice.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said the party paid Sharpton at the request of the Kerry campaign.
No other Democratic candidate received a fee for campaigning on behalf of the party’s nominees. None received reimbursements for travel expenses, either. Nor were these payments made public; as DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera put it, the payoffs were part of “private negotiations”. I’ll bet.
This sordid transaction belies any enthusiasm Sharpton expressed for Democrats or John Kerry, and instead either amounts to a shakedown by Sharpton or a payoff by Kerry. In either case, Al Sharpton sold out his community by taking the leadership role that he craved and the media gladly encouraged and cashing it in for $35,000. And why was John Kerry so eager to pay Sharpton under the table, especially when he hasn’t even paid his own campaign staff the money they’re owed, even now? Because Kerry could not afford to lose a single percentage point in the African-American community, and so he sought their votes the old-fashioned way. He bought them by paying off their supposed champion.
CBS News made a big deal about two bloggers selling out to campaigns without any disclosure. What does it say about Democrats when one of their own mainstream candidates shakes them down for cash in order to support them?
UPDATE: Here’s the Village Voice article. It’s mostly a run-down of Sharpton’s involvement with a woman who worked for him, but it does briefly mention the payments to Sharpton by the DNC. One wonders why the Voice didn’t spend more of its focus on that.