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Ward Connerly Under Fire

The champion of the effort to eliminate government-mandated racial discrimination is accused of misusing donor funds.

by
La Shawn Barber

Bio

February 25, 2012 - 12:03 am

I used to blog for Ward Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), an organization created to eradicate racial preferences and discrimination in government. On a Friday evening earlier this month, I was told via e-mail that my services no longer were required, effective immediately — a disappointing way to end a three-year professional relationship.

A couple of weeks before I received the pink slip, I learned from the New York Times, along with everyone else, that the IRS and California’s attorney general are investigating Connerly, and former employee Jennifer Gratz alleges that he mismanaged donations for personal gain. Lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), Gratz resigned last September, a fact I didn’t know until early January 2012.

In a five-page letter (PDF) through her lawyer, Gratz said Connerly’s organizations — ACRI, the American Civil Rights Coalition, and the American Civil Rights Foundation — have been in financial crisis since March 2010. Recent tax documents show Connerly’s annual salary (over $1 million) totaled more than half ACRI’s revenue. His handling of donor funds “raised questions about whether the organization’s mission has been subordinated to Mr. Connerly’s personal interests.”

According to Gratz, the organizations “ceased almost entirely” doing projects related to their mission “in part because of Mr. Connerly’s salary and legal fees related to the tax investigations.” ACRI also had problems making payroll. Gratz believes if Connerly had reduced his salary “on a level commensurate with the organizations’ current revenue” when problems began, the employees would have received their checks on time.

Gratz accused Connerly of displaying “erratic behavior” and making threats, and discouraged her and other employees from revealing financial irregularities. Connerly denied the allegations, although he acknowledged ACRI was having financial problems. He told the New York Times that Gratz was just a “disgruntled former employee” who wanted to replace him as head of the organization. The allegations are disappointing to those who supported ACRI.

I became acquainted with Connerly after I reviewed his book, Creating Equal: My Fight Against Race Preferences, for Townhall.com in 2003. He sent an e-mail thanking me for it, and I set out on a mission to publicly oppose a practice that had prompted the civil rights movement: government-mandated racial discrimination. Racial preferences go a step further in lowering standards for certain minorities. Connerly was vilified for opposing a practice that is demeaning and condescending to black Americans. People couldn’t understand why a black man wanted to get rid of a policy that “helped” blacks. They called him a “con man” and a “lawn jockey.”

Connerly began his campaign against racial preferences almost 20 years ago. In 1993, Governor Pete Wilson appointed him to the University of California (UC) Board of Regents, and Connerly soon realized UC used racial quotas in admissions. He led the campaign to get Proposition 209 — a measure that would bar the government from granting preferences to and discriminating against individuals or groups in employment, contracting, and education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin — on the state ballot.

On November 5, 1996, 54 percent of Californians barred their government from using racial preferences. Connerly moved on to other states. In 1998, 58 percent of voters in Washington state passed a similar measure. In 2006, 58 percent of voters in Michigan did the same (although the Sixth Circuit overturned the law last year). In 2008, 58 percent of Nebraska voters chose to end the practice in government. In 2010, voters in Arizona barred preferences by nearly 60 percent. On November 6, 2012, Oklahoma voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to bar the government from treating people differently in employment, contracting, and education based on race.

Eliminating racial bean-counting in government is a righteous cause, and I hope advocates don’t lose heart because of the accusations against Connerly. The fight continues. On February 13, the Ninth Circuit — which recently overturned a California voter-approved law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman — heard oral arguments in a lawsuit against California’s Proposition 209. Although the measure became law 15 years ago, groups still challenge it. A race-neutral government must deeply annoy them.

The accusations against Connerly undoubtedly confirm the worst opinions of him and possibly refute the best. Like Gratz, however, I remain committed to the mission, which is bigger and much more important than one man. The government has no business bestowing and denying benefits to individuals based on the color of their skin. Blacks, Hispanics, and other preferred minorities might benefit now, but the government has the power to harm these groups as well.

Individuals can hold whatever biases and prejudices they wish. Who cares? Humans perceive reality, and that will never change. But laws and government policy must be colorblind. A colorblind government limits the impact of personal biases and prejudices.

La Shawn Barber is a freelance writer who blogs at http://lashawnbarber.com.
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