Ward Connerly’s Anti-Affirmative Action Machine

Just who is Ward Connerly and why does he want to change Colorado’s Constitution?Twelve years ago, Connerly was the public face of California’s Proposition 209, designed to ban affirmative action programs benefiting women and minorities. Californians passed it, and Connerly, who is conservative and black, subsequently formed a group called the American Civil Rights Institute and took his show on the road.

Two years later, voters in Washington state approved a similar measure, outlawing programs that benefit women and minorities in public education, health and public employment. Michigan voters adopted a similar Connerly law in 2006.

And this year, Connerly has high goals for repeats in what he is calling “Super Tuesday for Equal Rights” – campaign efforts in Colorado, as well as Missouri, Arizona, Nebraska and Oklahoma. In Colorado, as elsewhere, Connerly and his supporters are calling their effort a “civil rights initiative” to end “preferential treatment.” Always, they avoid the term “affirmative action” – much to the dismay of opponents, who warn that programs that benefit women and minorities would be gutted if the measure passes.

When he appeared at a kick-off for the Colorado campaign last year, Connerly was flanked by state Sen. Dave Schultheis and Rep. Kent Lambert, both conservative Republicans from Colorado Springs. During the press conference, Connerly announced that it is time to end what he called “double standards.”

“What we’re about to do — what we’re setting upon a course to do — is to bring a single standard to every government agency and every village and hamlet in this country,” Connerly told The Rocky Mountain News.

(Since that initial appearance, neither Lambert nor Schultheis, who are best known for their stances opposing illegal immigration in Colorado, have, not surprisingly, not resurfaced for public appearances promoting Connerly’s Colorado proposal, which will be Amendment 31 if enough signatures are collected to make the ballot. Schultheis in particular outraged many in Colorado when he sent a letter to a Greeley paper in October, 2006, wondering if the family of three children who had died in a car accident were in the state legally.)

But in the dozen years since Proposition 209 passed in California, investigative reports have revealed that Connerly likely has much more than altruism and racial double standards in mind: It’s called money. Lots and lots of money.

In its winter 2008 issue, Ms. magazine published an investigative package detailing the millions that Connerly has raked in over the past 12 years, engaging in what is described as a “good ole boys” cottage industry, whose main beneficiaries are largely lily-white, male members of the building and construction industry – in other words, his consulting company’s longtime clients.

“Connerly and his firm [Connerly & Associates] have long consulted and lobbied for trade associations comprised of some of the most powerful players in the housing, building and public works construction industries – many of which depend on state and local governments for lucrative contracts,” according to the Ms. article, written by Mary Moore and Jennifer Hahn.

In the years since Prop 209 passed, Connerly has been “handsomely compensated,” the article notes. According to Internal Revenue Service filings, between 1998 and 2006 Connerly and his company have raked in a total of $8.3 million from his nonprofit American Civil Rights Institute, and another called the American Civil Rights Coalition.

“In addition to salary and benefits, Connerly receives expense accounts and fees for speaking, media interviews and consulting,” the article notes.

In 2006, Connerly’s compensation from his nonprofits totaled $1.6 million – which has drawn notice from members of Congress, who have called for an investigation into whether Connerly has excessively benefited from his nonprofits (Connerly has been reluctant to disclose the donors who are financing his anti-affirmative action efforts; a California lawsuit revealed that media mogul Rupert Murdoch and a handful of other wealthy conservatives largely financed the measure there).

That 2006 salary of $1.6 million is up – way up – from the $230,000 Connerly collected from his nonprofits in 1998. Since that year, his annual earnings have been steadily rising.

A June 23, 2003, investigative piece in The Sacramento Bee revealed that, the year before, Connerly pulled in more than $700,000 – including $314,079 in salaries from his nonprofits, $407,009 in speaking and consulting fees and $15,000 in fringe benefits. He was also reimbursed $174,353 for travel and other expenses.

The irony was not lost on critical California Assemblyman Fabian Nunez, a Democrat from Los Angeles.

“Clearly the objective here isn’t to create a colorblind society but to promote Mr. Connerly,” Nunez was quoted as saying.

For his part, in an interview with Ms. magazine, Connerly dismissed any claims that he is overpaid, claiming that he made $2 million a year when he was running Connerly & Associates full-time, which his wife now runs. He also rejected the notion that people working for nonprofits should “not make more than a certain amount.”

“That doesn’t take into account who the person is,” Connerly said. “I’m not your typical executive.”

The Ms. package, published in January, also includes a piece, written by Columbia and UCLA Law School professor Kimberle Crenshaw, examining the deceptive campaign tactics that were used in Connerly’s successful past campaigns in Michigan, California and Washington state. Those same tactics, as detailed last week by Colorado Confidential, are being replicated this year in Colorado.

For example, proponents of all the measures have purposely avoided the term “affirmative action” – describing their efforts as “promoting equality in the workplace,” and “ending preferential treatment.”

Crenshaw describes the deception as “the most audacious dimension of Connerly’s masquerade.”

“By selectively sampling from its martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Connerly has appropriated the terminology, symbolism and moral authority of the civil rights movement to undo some of its most important victories,” Crenshaw writes. “The millions of U.S. Citizens((did she really capitalize this?)) who are primed to affirm any proposal framed as advancing civil rights are precisely those most at risk of being tricked into voting against their own interests.

“Women and black people were denied the vote in the past; today, they are deceived out of their votes.”

In Colorado, paid petition-circulators are currently working to collect the 76,047 valid signatures to qualify Connerly’s Amendment 31 for the November ballot.

This is the fourth in a multi-part series. Click here to read the first installment, which provides an overview of Ward Connerly’s Colorado operation and the proposed Amendment 31.

Click here for details about opponents’ plan to introduce another Colorado amendment that would freeze programs that benefit women and minorities in place.

Click here for a story of a young black woman who reported being misled — and a warning to read before you sign petitions that was issued by a state lawmaker.

And click here for an additional tale of warning from a Denver woman who has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office after she was twice misled by petitioners in Colorado.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at The Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at cdegette@coloradoconfidential.com

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Cara Degette

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