There are a few honest and decent conservatives out there who have drank neither the neocon nor the know-nothing kool-aid. There just aren’t enough of them.
As far as I can determine, these rarest of birds are limited to the staff and readers of The American Conservative magazine.
Pity, that. We might have actual honest discourse in this country if there were more of them and fewer Freepers, but I’ll take what I can get. And this week, they give me Ward Connerly’s hypocritical head on a platter.
I have gone after him a couple of times on this blog. Last winter I warned readers not to sign a deceptive petition he was circulating and this spring, as the deadline for signature collection loomed large, I wrote about his desperate last-minute attempt to gather signatures by importing hatemongers-for-hire by bringing in Minutemen to collect signatures. At least one of his out-of-state goons was wanted for voter fraud in other jurisdictions.
Connerly, for those who may not know, is a (black) California businessman and anti-affirmative action zealot who decries the practice of mandated level playing fields, while cleaning up thanks to them. (It’s the republican way!)
The Right’s point man on affirmative action doesn’t need political successes to be a success. While his plans sputter and his former achievements are overturned, Connerly is still being handsomely rewarded. Once he received favored status from the conservative movement, his future was guaranteed. As an activist, Connerly has made millions opposing affirmative action. As a businessman and consultant, he has also made hundreds of thousands in large part because of it.
Between 1999 and 2005, Connerly’s nonprofits, the American Civil Rights Institute and the American Civil Rights Coalition, didn’t challenge a single affirmative-action law. Yet donations climbed to almost $2 million per year. The share that Connerly paid to himself, or to his private for-profit consulting firm, Connerly and Associates, also dramatically increased. In 1998, 22 percent of his nonprofits’ revenue was paid to Connerly in salary or to his firm. By 2001, Connerly’s salary and the fees charged by Connerly and Associates ate up 49 percent of the nonprofits’ combined revenue. Most of the money paid to the firm was listed on tax forms as “speaking fees.” In 2006, when Connerly took up a concrete goal in political activism-ending Michigan’s affirmative-action policies-the cut of nonprofit revenue paid to him and his firm rose to 66 percent of total receipts, nearly $1.6 million.
Connerly’s nonprofits employ him for 30 hours a week and two others full time. The nonprofits then hire him from Connerly and Associates to make speeches. In 2003, ACRI and ACRC paid him $314,079 while he managed two people. By comparison, that year the National Action Network, which receives about $1 million in public funds, only paid Al Sharpton about $4,000. The Claremont Institute, a neoconservative think tank in California, paid its top executive $132,000, and its staff is 9 times the size of Connerly’s. The Heritage Foundation paid its president $292,000 to manage a staff of over 180. The primary financial responsibility that Ward Connerly had at his nonprofits that year was paying his firm over $400,000 for Ward Connerly the consultant, Ward Connerly the speaker, Ward Connerly the political maven-and occasionally a security detail to guard him.
Is this illegal? The IRS makes clear in its statute that nonprofit organizations cannot be used to enrich one individual or company, but few of these cases are prosecuted. In 2006, during the heat of Connerly’s Michigan push, Congressmen John Conyers and Charles Rangel asked the IRS to look into his dealings. An IRS spokesman said that he could not comment on a case under investigation. Connerly defended himself by saying that he avoids any trickery on his IRS forms and dutifully pays taxes on all the money he receives.
Not long after the Sacramento Bee and the House members began inquiring about his compensation, Connerly changed procedures at his nonprofits. They now have a board that reviews his salary. He says, “It’s based on a formula that is devised by our auditors and accountants-a base salary of $300,000 and then compensation for speeches and things.” Connerly no longer has his private company invoice his nonprofits: “I pay Connerly and Associates for those services out of funds I receive for ACRI, so they [Connerly and Associates] in fact became a sub-contractor to me.” If this explanation seems convoluted, that’s fine by Connerly.
In Missouri, we got the word out and he and his minions skulked away with their collective tail between their neutered hind legs, and some of us have been bugging the hell out of our state representatives and senators ever since to get a common-sense statute on the books that anyone collecting signatures for ballot initiatives in Missouri be registered voters in this state.
We are, thankfully, a stubborn lot, no matter what our political leanings, and don’t like outsiders meddling in our “family bidness,” so to speak. Case in point: One of my relatives agreed with the sentiment of the initiative but refused to sign the petition because it didn’t originate with Missourians. “If Ward Connerly wants to move to Missouri and pay taxes here, I’ll think about signing his damned petition, but not until,” was the standard mantra he told the signature collectors who approached him.
Here is hoping that the American Conservative starts a groundswell and Connerly falls out of favor, if not off the face of the earth. But on the meantime, lets hit the ground runnong in January and get a petition gathering law through both chambers for Governor Nixon to sign. We may not dodge the next bullet he fires at us.