Sharpton Nonprofit Rebukes United Negro College Fund over Koch Money

by Ian Tuttle

Earlier this month, one of the nation’s largest public-sector unions — AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — decided to sever its relationship with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which in June accepted $25 million from libertarian philanthropists David and Charles Koch.

Yesterday, Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) announced its support of AFSCME’s move. NAN issued the following statement:

While National Action Network respects the work done by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in support of students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities and understand the need to raise funds to continue this critical work, we stand in support of the decision by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to sever ties and end their partnership with the UNCF. As a nonprofit civil rights organization, NAN recognizes that the funding landscape has changed and many organizations must figure out ways to continue their programming by bringing in new types of funders. However, the Koch brothers have not only worked on initiatives that have a disenfranchising effect on the same students UNCF supported institutions work to educate, the Koch brothers have also led efforts to end union organizing. We believe that AFSCME is doing what is right for its members who the Koch brothers have targeted and is working in the interests of students of color who attend not only UNCF Institutions, but all institutions of higher learning. But most importantly, AFSCME is working to support the value of justice. The union has already committed to continuing to support students of color by working directly with colleges and universities, so the end of the partnership does not signal an end to opportunities in organizing for students.

As of 2012, the United Negro College Fund, with revenues of $238 million, was the sixty-eighth largest charity in the United States, offering scholarships for black students and scholarship support to 39 historically black colleges and universities. According to an AFSCME spokesman, the national labor union has in the past donated between $50,000 and $60,000 to the fund annually, plus whatever is given by local affiliates. Since 2003 AFSCME and UNCF have partnered to offer junior- and senior-year college students scholarships and to place them in AFSCME summer work programs. The UNCF website reports that the Koch brothers have been supporters since 2005, and have donated more than $1.5 million, including the donations of Georgia-Pacific LLC, an Atlanta-based pulp and paper company with a history of supporting UNCF, which the Kochs acquired in 1995.

The National Action Network has been much more financially unreliable. As of this time last year, the nonprofit owed $871,688 in unpaid payroll taxes including penalties and interest, according to MSN Money, and was operating with a $1 million deficit. Information about how much the National Action Network has given to UNCF, if anything, is unavailable.

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