Special Reports
Ward Connerly's 'equal rights' con
By Bill Berkowitz
Online Journal Guest Writer

Sep 17, 2007, 01:32

In the aftermath of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling severely limiting the use of race in K-12 integration plans, Ward Connerly is feeling his oats.

"I believe that we are now poised for a coup de gr�ce to say that race preferences in the eyes of the public should not be used," Connerly, the chairman of the Sacramento, California-based American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), said in response to the Supreme Court's decision. Since 1997 ACRI has received more than $5.7 million from conservative philanthropies for its anti-affirmative action activities.

If Connerly's new Super Tuesday for Equal Rights campaign is successful, the day after the November 2008 presidential election affirmative action will be one giant step closer to oblivion. The mastermind behind anti-affirmative action initiatives in California, Michigan, and Washington, has set his sights on five new states -- Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. "This is going to be Super Tuesday for equal rights," Connerly said. "I think it's very clear that we are witnessing an end to an era."

In 1997, Connerly along with Thomas 'Dusty' Rhodes, co-founded the American Civil Rights Institute (website), a national non-profit organization pro-actively opposed to affirmative action. Connerly rocketed into the national spotlight -- and the hearts of conservatives -- with Proposition 209, the 1996 California ballot initiative that outlawed race and gender preferences in state hiring and university admissions.

Connerly-sponsored anti-affirmative action initiatives have a Frank Luntz-ian bent to them. Luntz is the GOP political consultant/pollster/Fox News Channel contributor who has been debasing language for partisan political purposes for more than a decade. As Diversity Inc.'s Jennifer Millman pointed out in a late-August report, Connerly "makes an easy sell to the public by calling for 'equal opportunity' and a 'colorblind society,' [which is] a distortion of civil-rights language that has duped the public into banning affirmative action in public education, employment and contracting."

Super Tuesday for equal rights

"Super Tuesday for Equal Rights" (website) has brought on board several longtime conservative-philanthropy supported opponents of affirmative action. According to Millman, "The initiatives in the five states are staffed with a who's who of prominent conservative activists, including Linda Chavez, president and founder of the anti-affirmative-action Center for Equal Opportunity, who is honorary co-chair of the Colorado initiative."

The Washington Post recently reported that Chavez, "a well-known Latina voice on social issues and President Bush's choice to lead the Labor Department [before being forced to withdraw because of her payments to illegal immigrants] and . . . [who has signed] book deals, [writes] a syndicated column, [and makes] regular appearances on the Fox News Channel," has had great "success" raising money for a host of political organizations that comfortably reside under her personal and familial awning.

According to the Washington Post, "Chavez and her immediate family members have used phone banks and direct-mail solicitations to raise tens of millions of dollars, founding several political action committees with bankable names: the Republican Issues Committee, the Latino Alliance, Stop Union Political Abuse and the Pro-Life Campaign Committee." Although "[t]heir solicitations promise direct action in the 'fight to save unborn lives,' a vigorous struggle against 'big labor bosses' and a crippling of 'liberal politics in the country. . . . [t]hat's not where the bulk of the money wound up being spent":

Of the $24.5 million raised by the PACs from January 2003 to December 2006, $242,000 -- or 1 percent -- was passed on to politicians, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal election reports. The PACs spent even less -- $151,236 -- on independent political activity, such as mailing pamphlets.

Instead, most of the donations were channeled back into new fundraising efforts, and some were used to provide a modest but steady source of income for Chavez and four family members, who served as treasurers and consultants to the committees. Much of the remaining funds went to pay for expenses such as furniture, auto repairs and insurance, and rent for the Sterling office the groups share. Even Chavez's health insurance was paid for a time from political donations.

In Missouri, wealthy Kansas City businessman John Uhlmann "who," Millman reported, "gave $190,000 to Connerly's failed efforts to pass a 2003 bill that would have prohibited state and local government from classifying people on the basis of 'race, ethnicity, color or national origin' in California, is honorary chair of the MoCRI (website)" [Missouri Civil Rights Initiative]. Uhlmann was the co-founder of "a politicized media group that became known for producing and airing controversial radio ads with 'reverse reparations' messages aimed at African-American communities during the 2002 election cycle."

Connerly has run up against a serious roadblock in Missouri; misleading initiative language that he has long used to deceive voters has been rewritten by Missouri state officials. The initiative submitted by Connerly states: "The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting."

Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is also a Democratic candidate for governor, has proposed the ballot summary read as follows: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: ban affirmative action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against; and improve opportunities for woman and minorities in public contracting, employment and education; and allow preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to meet federal program funds eligibility standards as well as preferential treatment for bona fide qualifications based on sex?"

"Connerly charged that Nixon's 'henchmen' were 'doing everything they can' to keep the amendment off the ballot," Cybercast News Service reported. "He noted, for instance, that a lead attorney in a lawsuit filed by Missouri residents opposed to the initiative is Charles Hatfield, a former Nixon chief-of-staff and now treasurer for the Nixon-for-governor campaign committee."

Despite this obstacle, Connerly, a businessman who was a former University of California Regent, is confident of winning big victories in November 2008. And the GOP is no doubt hopeful that anti-affirmative action initiatives will drive base voters to the polls.

All the campaigns are "going extremely well" Connerly told Cybercast News Service. According to Diverse magazine's Jamal Watson, Connerly has every reason to be sanguine about his initiatives: While many opposition groups are demoralized and outgunned, "Connerly's group has raised millions of dollars and is planning to launch public service announcements in the battleground states aimed at convincing voters to abandon state-funded affirmative action programs."

Connerly is also hopeful of getting public backing from former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the leading Republican Party contenders for the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination. "Giuliani was unequivocal in his support for the decisions made by the Roberts Court," Connerly told Cybercast News Service in an interview. And while he hasn't endorsed Giuliani, Connerly allowed that he "was impressed with his instantaneous response and by the clarity with which he understood the issue."

During a recent interview with Diverse, Theodore M. Shaw, president-director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund who is stepping down February 2008, summed up his feelings about Connerly's campaigns. "There are a lot of people who may be confused and people who in good faith struggle with affirmative action, but the people who are leading this fight are not confused about what they are doing, and many of them are pursuing an old agenda," Shaw said. "It's old wine in new bottles," he went on. "The fact that you have someone like Ward Connerly serving that interest doesn't in any way change or dilute what their agenda is."

"There have always been Black folks unfortunately who have been willing to serve their master. I think that what is most important for all Americans to understand is that if our adversaries get their way, nothing less than all voluntary attempts to address racial inequality would be illegal. You couldn't have programs aimed at addressing this crisis among Black boys and Black young men because they are race conscious by definition. You couldn't have scholarships for minority students. You couldn't have mentoring programs that are specifically aimed at minority students."

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement and a frequent writer for Media Transparency. He documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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