When members of the Congressional Black Caucus listened to a presentation by Texas Instruments lobbyist Paula Collins over dinner late last month, it was more than just a routine meeting. It marked the first of what promises to be a series of outreach sessions the CBC is planning with business representatives and civil rights advocates.
The caucus, whose popularity has soared with the business community since the Democratic takeover put some of its members at the helm of important committees, including Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) at Ways and Means, is capitalizing on the opportunity for more dialogue with lobbyists.
“Our outreach effort is vast,” said Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the CBC. “We’re doing a lot of things over the next couple of years. We plan to have more [meetings]. It’s just getting organized.”
Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), who received his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said he has long called for the CBC to reach out to business leaders and supports Kilpatrick’s effort.
“This is extraordinary what the chairwoman is doing … establishing a greater presence and a greater participation with the business community and the black caucus in a way that helps us to get these jobs and get business” into CBC Congressional districts, he said.
The dinner last month with Texas Instruments focused on the Democrats’ innovation agenda.
CBC Executive Director Joe Leonard said that after Texas Instruments made its presentation, Collins left and the Members continued their dinner. “It’s important for us to create a venue for [outside groups] to come in,” Leonard said. But he said the focus of the dinners will be more on building Member-to-Member camaraderie. “When civil rights or business interests come in to speak to the Members, it’s important that after that, the Members have this time to talk among themselves.”
Leonard said that because the caucus bars lobbyists and representatives of outside groups from attending the caucus’s regular Wednesday meetings, the CBC wanted to come up with another forum where outsiders could come in for large discussions.
A spokesman for Texas Instruments said that Collins, TI’s vice president of government relations, represented the company at the April 24 dinner. TI is based partially in the Dallas district of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), a CBC member.
One lobbyist with ties to the CBC said that this is not the first time the caucus has reached out to business leaders. The caucus, this lobbyist said, “has had an open-door policy.” But members of the CBC have never before been in such positions of Congressional power.
Bob Maloney, a longtime lobbyist with Fannie Mae who recently set up his own Maloney Government Relations, said that the CBC members are “in positions of extraordinary power,” which gives the outreach effort a new level of cachet in the business world.
“This is a unique place in American history,” said Maloney, who is close with the caucus. “The CBC members chair extremely important committees for American commerce and American business. The CBC members are proactively developing relationships that will be good for the communities, their constituents, good for creating an employment base within their communities.”
Maloney and other lobbyists who are close to the CBC said that when business representatives meet with the caucus, it won’t be a one-way conversation. CBC members, like the corporate lobbyists themselves, will have their own task — pushing for more diversity in corporate America, among other initiatives.
“The CBC members are keenly aware that diversity is something which puts America in a world class position to be competitive,” said Maloney, whose clients include Fannie Mae and Steptoe & Johnson. As for the opportunity to participate in the sessions with the CBC, he added, “I don’t see how corporate leaders could let that opportunity go by. It’s unprecedented.”
Congressman Scott agreed. “By building relationships and alliances with the business community, we can use that as levers to empower. I think it’s important that the message goes out — that the Congressional Black Caucus understands fully the role that business plays in our society and our community.”