(CNSNews.com) - The dark clouds of Hurricane Katrina may have produced a silver lining for the struggling liberal civil rights establishment.
Several groups have created their own hurricane relief fund-raising campaigns, and they are now urging President Bush to "partner" with them, anticipating that hundreds of billions of federal dollars will be appropriated for the rebuilding of the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Cybercast News Service first reported in August that many of the traditional civil rights groups, including the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), the National Urban League and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, have been reeling financially in recent years as critics have alleged that their relevance has diminished.
But the political, racial and cultural impact of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded New Orleans and demolished much of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, has the potential to be a financial boon to these groups, with one critic warning that relief money might become "a giant slush fund for the left."
"Do they seek to help storm victims or to resuscitate their own sagging financial fortunes?" asked Peter Flaherty, president of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), a group that monitors charitable giving. "It will be a shame if the hurricanes are a disaster for some African-Americans, but a bonanza for others."
The idea of the Bush administration working with liberal civil rights groups to dispense hurricane reconstruction funds was buzzing at the recent annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which serves as a powerful advocate on Capitol Hill for the civil rights organizations.
Corporate and government cash
The CBC often voices harsh criticism of the Bush administration, but some members appeared to tone down their rhetoric at the September conference.
Instead, the CBC devoted its opening press event to bragging about the $700,000 it had raised in corporate contributions for hurricane relief. Don Tharpe, president and chief executive officer of the CBC, said his group would convene a sub-committee "to determine how we disperse those funds."
However, those corporate contributions to the CBC are a small fraction of the $200 billion that Congress and the president eventually are expected to approve for Gulf Coast reconstruction.
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), a member of the CBC, urged President Bush to "reach out to the elected national black leadership, which is the Congressional Black Caucus, and partner with us.
"Who better to partner with than the national elected leadership ... we are the ones that can help him in more ways than one," Scott explained to Cybercast News Service , following the Sept. 21 press conference.
Scott complimented Bush for acknowledging that "poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination" during his televised speech from New Orleans on Sept. 15. "I thought the president gave a very good speech," Scott said.
During her speech, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) alleged that the suppression of black votes in the last two presidential elections, denying Democratic candidates victory, had come back to haunt the Gulf Coast because, she said, a Democratic administration would have performed better than the Bush administration did in responding to Katrina.
Yet, even Jackson Lee thanked Bush for reaching out to blacks during his Sept. 15 remarks. "We are grateful [to the president] for the acknowledgment of what we have expressed," Jackson Lee said.
"I think the next call for the president is to call the CBC, as we have called on him to sit down in a working session and begin to build the building blocks that will be effective in rebuilding the region," Jackson Lee told Cybercast News Service.
'Slush fund' concerns
Other liberal African American civil rights groups also have jumped into the hurricane relief effort. The Southern Christian Leadership Council, after several years of financial difficulties -- culminating in the group having its electricity turned off at one point earlier this year for non-payment -- recently established its own Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund devoted to "accepting donations" for hurricane victims.
But a statement on the group's website concedes that this is an unusual activity for the group.
"Although SCLC is not traditionally operated as a relief agency, the organization's leadership immediately declared that it would provide assistance to those in need after Hurricane Katrina's devastation," the website stated.
Telephone calls to SCLC to inquire about how much money the group had raised were not returned, but the group states on its website that "as of mid-September, SCLC has secured approximately $200,000 in donations of clothes, food, water, toiletries, and in-kind donations."
The SCLC is not limiting its hurricane relief efforts to humanitarian needs; the group is using the money for political purposes as well.
"SCLC is strategizing a direct action effort in the form of a protest to address the federal government's lack of expediency in this national crisis ..." the website states.
The National Urban League, which also has seen revenues drop from more than $39 million in 2002 to about $25 million in 2004, has established a Katrina relief fund to raise money for the victims.
But Don Bowen, executive director of the Urban League's Katrina Fund, told Cybercast News Service last week that the group was "not prepared to make a public announcement," regarding the contributions it has collected.
Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition is another group seeking a prominent role in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Rainbow/PUSH saw its revenues drop so steeply in 2002 that Jackson had to lay off employees and cut staff salaries.
Then, after years of accessing the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for his Wall Street Project's fund-raising gala, Jackson was denied use of the prestigious venue in 2004. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Project lost what remained of the NYSE's sponsorship of the event.
But shortly after Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, Rainbow/PUSH established the PUSH-Hurricane Relief Fund and Jackson traveled to New Orleans. His organization's website slammed the Bush administration, particularly the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency, which "utterly failed to fulfill their duty in this crisis," according to the Rainbow/PUSH web statement.
The NAACP claims that having its own hurricane relief operation is critical because of the group's special qualities.
"The catastrophic nature of Hurricane Katrina will require the implementation of its own plan and the NAACP will use its unique network to ensure all victims receive equitable distribution of resources," said Adora Obi Nweze, director of the NAACP National Disaster Relief Fund.
Flaherty of the NLPC expressed concern that both the massive private and government-related hurricane relief efforts have emboldened the liberal civil rights groups to hold out their hands.
"Careful monitoring of how the aid packages are spent is necessary," Flaherty said. "I am very worried that given the dearth of qualified agencies on the ground, a lot of this money will go to political groups," he added.
See Earlier Article:
Money Troubles Cloud Civil Rights Anniversary March
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