Activism for revenue: America’s ‘anti-affirmative action’ trade

Like many Americans on election night time in November 2020, I nervously awaited the outcomes of the presidential contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. But I had an extra cause to be troubled.

In my home state of California, voters got the chance to reauthorise using affirmative motion in state governmental establishments by way of a poll measure generally known as Proposition 16.

Affirmative motion is a set of insurance policies geared toward growing the illustration of racial minorities and ladies in areas of training and employment from which they’ve been traditionally excluded.

Proposition 209: A regulation in opposition to affirmative motion

Twenty-four years in the past, in 1996, voters in California handed Proposition 209, a regulation that prohibited the consideration of race, ethnicity or intercourse in public training, employment, and contracting. Proposition 209 was one of the vital important authorized challenges to affirmative motion for the reason that 1978 Supreme Court determination in Bakke v California which outlawed racial quotas however allowed for race to be thought-about as a think about college admissions and employment. Proposition 209 went even additional to get rid of race from consideration altogether.

This new regulation wreaked havoc on African Americans’ entry to increased training, native and state authorities jobs, and enterprise contracts inside the state. In truth, based on Mike Davis, Commissioner and President Pro Tempore of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works information exhibits that whereas African American enterprise house owners obtained 15 p.c of all metropolis authorities contracts in 1996, immediately they obtain solely 0.23 p.c – lower than 1 / 4 of 1 p.c.

In our state’s public increased training system, African American pupil enrolment has dropped precipitously as properly. Take, for example, the California State University system, the place African American pupil enrolment dropped from eight p.c in 1997 to four p.c in 2018, regardless of an general enhance within the variety of African American college students graduating from highschool.

After the ban on affirmative motion took impact in 1996, focused mentoring, tutoring and scholarship programmes for racial minority college students skilled finances cuts or programme elimination. With the attainment of a college diploma being one of many biggest predictors of financial and social mobility within the United States, Proposition 209 represented a setback to the African American “dream” of equal entry and racial equality.

All of this brings me again to election night time 2020 as I waited for the outcomes for Proposition 16. With protests throughout the nation following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier within the 12 months, affirmative motion advocates and supporters throughout the state had been hopeful that there can be sufficient public help to convey again the only most vital authorized software in selling racial fairness.

I even joined the battle to revive affirmative motion by personally organising and facilitating digital voter training boards, explaining what the passage of Proposition 16 would do to extend academic and employment alternatives for African Americans.

Ward Connerly: Face of the anti-affirmative motion motion

While some voters had been accustomed to Ward Connerly, the African American businessman who led the cost in opposition to affirmative motion within the early 1990s, many had been alarmed with the revelation of how a lot cash he had created from his anti-affirmative motion lobbyist work. I’ve written about race and conservative philanthropy, that’s, monies from personal household foundations which help conservative causes like anti-affirmative motion. Yet most Americans know completely nothing concerning the income created from what I name “the anti-affirmative action industry”.

Anti-affirmative motion organising work was a profitable enterprise enterprise for Connerly and different activists like him. Shortly following his appointment to the Board of Regents for the University of California in 1993, Connerly was paid nearly $2m by the Bradley Foundation to steer the California Civil Rights Initiative Campaign, which helped put Proposition 209 on the California poll. The Bradley Foundation is among the wealthiest personal household foundations within the US with a observe file of supporting conservative causes resembling the varsity alternative motion which permits public faculty funds to comply with college students to the colleges of their alternative usually leading to fewer sources for native public colleges.

AP 03070804124In a photograph from July 2003, Ward Connerly, chairman of American Civil Rights Coalition, speaks on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as an affirmative motion supporter holds an indication protesting in opposition to his anti-affirmative motion work [File: AP Photo/Paul Sancya]

Following the defeat of affirmative motion in California, Connerly established the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), a non-profit organisation designed to teach elected officers, the press and the American public concerning the “problems” with affirmative motion throughout the nation.

Utilising greater than $4m in donations from the Bradley ($1.9m), Olin ($775,000), Scaife ($925,000), Hickory ($250,000) and Randolph ($140,000) foundations in only one 12 months of operation, the ACRI expanded the scope of its anti-affirmative motion work and was instantly accountable for overturning affirmative motion in 5 states between 1997 and 2003.

For this work, Connerly obtained a wage of greater than $300,000 from the ACRI, an extra $400,000 in consulting and talking charges, and $15,000 in fringe advantages in 2002 alone, greater than the wage of the governor of California. In simply greater than 4 years of operation from 1998 to 2002, Connerly earned greater than $2.1m from the ACRI which accounts for nearly 30 p.c of the whole income earned by the non-profit organisation in these years.

Connerly’s excessive wage led some to query his motivations and even drew the eye of US legislators. Yet, Connerly regularly scoffed at critics who raised considerations over his compensation. Still, different critics took exception to Connerly’s function as a conservative mouthpiece who was extremely vital of the identical affirmative motion programmes from which he benefitted as a pupil and later as a businessman. In interviews and speeches, Connerly excoriated African Americans for his or her “lack of personal responsibility” and often dismissed the pervasiveness of racism as an evidence for African Americans’ lack of financial and social progress. Likewise, Connerly constantly said he didn’t wish to be labelled as “Black or African American” but additionally claimed an “insider knowledge” of African American tradition that made him “a good fit” to steer the cost in opposition to affirmative motion. To many, Connerly’s “good fit” declare sounded extra like a gross sales pitch to money in on the expense of different Black individuals.

Even after voters banned affirmative motion in college admissions and authorities contracting in California, Connerly referred to as for the elimination of ethnic research programmes, traditionally Black faculties and universities (HBCUs), and ethnic commencement celebrations, and even labored to place a measure on the poll to cease the gathering of race information in native and state companies. Although this measure was soundly defeated, it signalled simply how far activists like Connerly had been prepared to go in direction of making a “colour-blind” society and receives a commission properly within the course of. Connerly was probably the most recognisable face of the anti-affirmative motion motion within the 1990s and early 2000s, however he definitely was not alone.

Edward Blum: Overturning affirmative motion

Edward Blum served because the director of Legal Affairs for the ACRI underneath Connerly, earlier than establishing his personal non-profit authorized defence basis referred to as the Project for Fair Representation (PFFR) in 2005. Blum isn’t a lawyer and as an alternative fashions himself as a authorized activist with a selected curiosity in eliminating affirmative motion insurance policies and programmes within the nation’s increased training establishments. His work entails matching plaintiffs to attorneys who’re prepared to work on “test cases” as a way to set new authorized precedents to overturn affirmative motion legal guidelines throughout the nation.

PFFR affords free authorized illustration to any particular person or group prepared to file lawsuits geared toward overturning affirmative motion laws. PFFR is ready to supply these free authorized companies by way of rich contributions from members of Donors Trust, a non-profit donor-advised fund based in 1999. As a donor-advised fund, Donors Trust has no authorized requirement to reveal the identities of donors; nonetheless, a number of the fund’s wealthiest donors embrace the Bradley Foundation, the Charles and David Koch Foundation, and the DeVos Family Foundation.

According to Jane Mayer, writer of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, individuals like Charles Koch and the DeVos Family, have used their huge fortunes to cloak their far-right political and social activism by way of their foundations, funding individuals and insurance policies designed to “destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” Policies selling equal alternative and racial fairness – like affirmative motion – are amongst a number of the chief targets of this philanthropy.

Tax information from 2015 point out that PFFR obtained $450,000 from the Searle Freedom Trust for “legal programs” whereas Donors Trust contributed $250,000 for “general operations”. Due to the privateness protections supplied to donor funds, it’s tough to know precisely how a lot Blum and PFFR truly obtain from Donors Trust.

AP 406866185529In a photograph from December 2015, Edward Blum, proper, accompanies a pupil who challenged using race in faculty admissions whereas she speaks to reporters exterior the Supreme Court in Washington, DC [File: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite]

Unlike Connerly, who was paid handsomely to be the general public face of the anti-affirmative motion motion, Blum represents a distinct breed of conservative authorized entrepreneur who prefers to remain out of the limelight and draw a a lot smaller annual wage of $50,000. Since 1995, nonetheless, Blum has additionally obtained an annual wage estimated to be within the area of $100,000 from his work with the American Enterprise Institute, the place he serves as a analysis fellow targeted on authorized points associated to race. Despite his decrease public profile, Blum has been capable of efficiently re-litigate the deserves of affirmative motion in 4 separate circumstances argued earlier than the US Supreme Court. One of those circumstances, Shelby County v. Holder (2013) paved the way in which for states like Texas to broaden new voter ID necessities, making it tougher for African Americans to vote.

While Blum runs PFFR as a one-man operation, in 2014, he additionally established Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a membership-driven group, to problem college admissions insurance policies. Blum makes use of this organisation to recruit college students who’ve been denied admission to elite universities resembling Harvard University and recordsdata lawsuits on their behalf. The membership construction of SFFA gives the look that the organisation is grassroots in nature, nonetheless, nearly all of SFFA’s income comes from giant personal foundations just like the Searle Freedom Trust and Donors Trust.

In 2017, SFFA tried to overturn Harvard University’s admissions coverage, arguing that the college discriminated in opposition to Asian Americans by accepting African American and Latinos who had been much less academically certified. However, the choose within the case dominated that Harvard didn’t discriminate in opposition to Asian Americans as a result of it didn’t create particular racial quotas. Although SFFA misplaced this case, Blum continues to search for methods to overturn affirmative motion. As luck would have it, Blum bought one other alternative when affirmative motion was as soon as once more on the poll in California in 2020.

Proposition 16: An uphill battle

Based on fundraising alone, the Yes on 16 Campaign in help of Proposition 16 ought to have received by a landslide. But regardless of lobbyist teams funnelling in additional than $25m, and regardless of voters in six main California cities approving measures to defund the police, Proposition 16 was defeated by 15 p.c. The No on 16 Campaign, by comparability, raised nearly $2m together with donations from Students for Fair Admissions.

The 2020 summer season protests had been clearly not sufficient to alter public sentiment in help of affirmative motion.

AP 20310746462451A photograph from October 2020 exhibits a billboard advert for the 2020 California Proposition 16 – End Diversity Ban, in Inglewood, California [AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes]

I preserve that the rationale for the invoice’s failure traces again to 1996 with the heavy infusion of personal cash into politics, which enabled foundations to purchase affect and form attitudes in highly effective methods.

Activists like Connerly labored arduous to sway public sentiment in direction of the idea that Black tradition was to be blamed for Black poverty, creating an uphill battle for the Yes on 16 Campaign even with $25m in donations.

Likewise, those that assert that affirmative motion promotes “reverse racism” by no means appear involved about what number of slots are given to white candidates. They by no means query the financial and social situations that make affirmative motion essential for African Americans within the first place.

Instead, these activists leverage the monetary sources of conservative foundations to alter the way in which individuals speak and take into consideration affirmative motion whereas enriching their pockets within the course of.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.