Useful Sites for Students: The Covenant with Black America website

Since the 1980s black leaders have held several State of the Black Union overview conferences. In 2006 a document, “The Covenant with Black America,” was presented to eight thousand attendees at the seventh conference in Houston, a book-length statement of strong recommendations to policymakers that would improve the lives of African Americans. In addition to suggesting action options for African Americans with regard to issues such as renewal of voting rights legislation and boycotting discriminatory companies, these conferences have generated renewed interest in an array of political campaigns accenting issues of concern to black communities.

Subsequent black conferences have confirmed these goals, and the book version of the Covenant became a New York Times best-seller. A third book in the Covenant series is now out, and is described on the website thus:

Accountable is the the yardstick that will determine whether we, the people—both political leaders and citizens—have lived up to the aspirations enshrined in The Covenant and operationalized in THE COVENANT In Action. It offers a pragmatic model for holding our new president and political leaders accountable for what they have promised and must deliver. It also holds us accountable both as individuals and as a community for our actions or inactions in keeping our agenda on track. Because the stakes have never been higher, Accountable teaches American citizens how to be driven by “the cause and not the candidate,” and how to sustain the new political dialogue in which “our votes cannot be separated from our voices.”

The Covenant with Black America website has some very useful interactive maps (from dealing with important statistical data by state on Health, Education, Justice, Democracy, Environment, Digital Divide, and Rural America.

There is also a good link to race, poverty, and related news events.

This is a good site for students to access.

Racism at Play in Congressional Ethics Probes?

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) is now under investigation for ethics violations.  Waters, who is African American and one of the most progressive members of Congress, has been added to the growing list of members of Congress being investigated for possible violations by the House Ethics Committee, including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-New York).  The House Ethics Committee is predominantly white, although it does have one African-American member, G.K. Butterlfield (D-North Carolina).  While that fact in and of itself doesn’t suggest racism may be at play in these ethics probes, another fact does.   All active ethics investigation are of black lawmakers.  There is not a single white lawmaker under investigation.  It’s not that white lawmakers have not been suspected of ethics violations.  They have.

According to a document leaked to The Washington Post in late October of this year, nearly three dozen lawmakers have come under scrutiny this year by either the House Ethics Committee or the Office of Congressional Ethic (OCE)i. While the list contained a substantial number of white lawmakers, the ethics committee has not yet launched formal investigative subcommittees of any of the white lawmakers — as it has with the seven African-American members.   Black lawmakers can be “easy targets” for ethics watchdog groups because they have less money — both personally and in their campaign accounts (which can be used to pay members’ legal bills) — to defend themselves than do their white colleagues.

A story by John Bresnahan at (which originally ran this story on Nov.4, 2009) quotes an aide to a senior black Democrat saying:

“It is kind of crazy. How can it be that the ethics committee only investigates African-Americans? It doesn’t make sense.”

Crazy, indeed, especially given the kinds of shenanigans that white lawmakers have been involved in, such as Tom DeLay.  Currently, a number of white lawmakers — including senior House Appropriations Committee members John Murtha (D-Pa.), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) — have drawn the attention of the committee and the OCE.   The two congressional ethics watchdogs are looking into these members’ ties to the PMA Group, a now-defunct lobbying firm that won tens of millions of dollars in earmarks from members of the Appropriations Committee. The lawmakers who arranged for the earmarks received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from PMA’s lobbying clients.  The article says it seems unlikely that the PMA case will become the subject of a full-blown ethics committee investigation. The Justice Department is also looking into the PMA allegations; the FBI raided PMA’s office last year, and Visclosky and his former chief of staff have been served with document subpoenas. And under ethics committee rules, the panel cannot conduct an investigation of any member or staffer already being probed by a law enforcement agency.

While racism is likely not the only factor operating here – we are, after all, talking about the bloodsport of beltway politics – it seems more than plausible that racism is one of the factors contributing to a racially disparate pursuit of ethics violations among lawmakers.