President Obama is lending his political support to fellow community organizer Al Sharpton by headlining the MSNBC host’s National Action Network (NAN) conference this week in New York. Obama’s choice to headline the conference underscores the close ties of the two leaders and provides an increased sense of political legitimacy to the controversial leader and his much-maligned organization.
Sharpton’s conference is held in April "not just to commemorate the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, but to honor his legacy by proactively engaging in dialogue that will spawn change." The NY Daily News reports that along with President Obama, the conference will feature other high-profile liberal leaders, including US Attorney General Eric Holder, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Over the years Sharpton’s organization has been accused of engaging in questionable financial practices, including using the threat of boycotts to extort donations from corporations and land Sharpton consultant positions. As the New York Post reported in 2008, nearly 50 companies—including GM, Pepsi and Wal-Mart, and some labor unions—had donated to NAN. The NY Post attributes many of these donations to extortionist tactics:
Terrified of negative publicity, fearful of a consumer boycott or eager to make nice with the civil-rights activist, CEOs write checks, critics say, to NAN and Sharpton – who brandishes the buying power of African-American consumers.” In some cases, they hire him as a consultant.
(Incidentally, one of the panel discussions for this year’s conference is “How Can Corporations Collaborate to Affect Change in the Community.”)
As Breitbart News reports, Sharpton’s organization was charged in 2006 by the IRS for improperly reporting taxes. The organization still owes the federal government $1.9 million in back taxes and penalties.
The ties between President Obama and Al Sharpton are strong. The NY Daily News reports that Sharpton has visited the Oval Office several times during Obama’s tenure. In 2009, Sharpton and Michael Bloomberg met with Obama on education initiatives. In 2010, the president invited Sharpton back to discuss jobs and the state of the economy with other black leaders. Sharpton also took part in the First Lady’s 50th birthday celebration and supported the president’s young black and Hispanic men initiative.
This is the second time Obama has appeared at the NAN convention, also speaking at the event in 2011.