Magazine article The American Conservative

Connerly Cashes In: The Anti-Preferences Activist Gets Rich off of Affirmative Action

Magazine article The American Conservative

Connerly Cashes In: The Anti-Preferences Activist Gets Rich off of Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

THIS WAS SUPPOSED to be a banner year for Ward Connerly, the former University of California regent and the Right's most visible anti-affirmative-action activist. His 2000 biography, Creating Equal: My Fight Against Racial Preferences, was re-released in February. His latest book, Lessons From My Uncle James, was set to hit shelves this summer. More significantly, he was to be the driving force behind a series of ballot initiatives that would have forbidden state governments from "grant[ing] preferential treatment to any group or individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in areas of public contracting, public education, or public employment." He marketed this effort as Super Tuesday for Equal Rights.

George Will gave his imprimatur to Connerly and his mission in a Washington Post column: "Will the superstitions surrounding race ever fade away? Not before governance is cleansed of the sort of race-based policies opposed by Connerly, who intimately knows the increasing absurdity of racial classifications and the folly of government preferences based on them."

But Connerly's plans are unraveling. His biography is absent from most stores and barely registered in conservative book clubs. His second book is mysteriously delayed. His ballot ambitions were scaled back, first from 10 states to five. Then legal challenges and organized opposition winnowed the tally down to just two.

This is unfortunate because anti-affirmative-action ballot measures usually pass when put to a vote. Connerly would know. He and the nonprofit organizations he founded helped three such measures pass--in California in 1996, Washington in 1998, and Michigan in 2006.

But don't spend too much sympathy on Ward Connerly. 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. …

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