The GOP Is Building a Black Power Base

African-American Republicans are filling a variety seats around the table.

Posted: 08/29/2012 05:56 PM EDT

One of the most enduring legacies of the 2012 presidential election cycle may be the effect of billions of dollars being poured into the campaigns, much of which has been spent on negative advertising. Hardball host Chris Matthews calls it dirty, angry money. But according to Republican fundraiser Stephen Lackey, it's how one gets a seat at the table.

In the political lexicon, Lackey is called a bundler. He gathers together like-minded individuals around campaigns and issues. They in turn write checks to support said campaign or cause, that Lackey, who heads a firm called Creative Partners Management, hands over in one neat bundle. In this election cycle, he expects to have raised more than a million dollars.

"Before I knew what the term bundling was, I just started collecting money among people who quietly wanted to support [largely Republican-sponsored] initiatives that supported faith-based organizations in their community," he recalls.

When he started fundraising about 12 years ago, he made a startling discovery: African-American ministers were happy to make donations but preferred to keep hidden their conservative leanings.

"I call them closet Republicans, and they exist in very large numbers," Lackey says.
That group has since expanded to include African-American professionals representing a broad range of professions, many of them out and proud to be a Republican.

Lackey organized a luncheon during this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa that brought together some of the party's movers and shakers and others on the rise. They included Florida lawmakers Rep. Allen West and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who have gained national attention in the past couple of years; veteran Republicans Dr. Ada Fisher, a national committeewoman, and Frances Rice, who chairs the National Black Republican Association; and up-and-comers Ashley Bell and entrepreneur Garrett Johnson.

West, who like Lackey grew up in Atlanta, recalled the neighborhoods of their childhoods that reflected the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in which Black families, schools and businesses thrived but today are all too rare. He attributed the decline to African-Americans investing their political capital in one party for little return, except high unemployment.

According to Lackey, the Republican Party has a "face issue," which is why many Blacks haven't been very open to it.

"The only Republican faces we've seen are old white men or Black men who seem to hate Black people or hate President Obama," he said. "We don't see people like me who are young professionals who understand that how my community functions and that the government doesn't support my community nonprofits."

But West said that the Black community must remember its tradition of shared values, including a good education, individual and fiscal responsibility and the importance of family — values that he and other Republicans argue are the glue that could bind together African-Americans and the GOP.

"That's what we need to go back to. No other group is more conservative on Sunday than the Black community, but somebody's got to tell me what happens Monday through Saturday," he quipped.

But looking around the room in the Avila Country Club, where the luncheon took place, West was encouraged to see the next generation of black conservatives as well as those like Fisher and Rice who helped him along the way.

"We have to start building a legacy of this thing that we call constitutional conservatism. We have to educate the next generation about what's important about economic, energy and national security. We've got to translate those values into votes," he said. "That's the most important thing."

Adding that he was under no illusion that African-Americans would have a sudden epiphany and give the GOP 80 percent of their vote, he said, "when I look in this room right now, this is a start."

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(Photos from left: Ron Sachs/CNP DPA /LANDOV, Shealah Craighead, Courtesy of Harvard.edu)


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