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NAACP’s Huffman assailed for tobacco, telecom payments

The president of the California NAACP has been paid $100,000 by a campaign
account funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris at the same time that the
civil-rights organization is siding with the cigarette-maker in opposing a
tobacco-tax on the November ballot.

Alice Huffman, who has served as president of the state NAACP since 1999, is
also on retainer by AT&T for $12,000 per month–a fact she never disclosed to
her organization–even as Huffman testified on behalf of the NAACP in support
of major legislation to ease access for the phone company into the lucrative
cable industry.

The campaign payments to Huffman’s political company, A.C. Public Affairs,
come only a year after the firm was paid $330,000 in consulting fees by the
pharmaceutical industry. In 2005, the state NAACP sided with the drug
companies’ position on two ballot measures.

Those payments to Huffman, coupled with NAACP endorsements, have some
activists in the African-American community wondering where exactly
Huffman’s consulting operation ends and the NAACP begins.

“These are very questionable kinds of activities,” says Joe Hicks, former
executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the
civil-rights organization founded by Martin Luther King, Jr. “That she’s
receiving money from industry folks and all of a sudden is carrying the
water for their interests–it should raise some eyebrows.”

Meanwhile, Philip Morris, the drug industry and AT&T are three of the
largest financial backers of the California NAACP. The money illuminates an
ongoing debate within the black community about the increasing financial
dependence of the nation’s pre-eminent civil-rights organization on money
from large corporate donors.

Since her election in 1999, Huffman has transformed the California
NAACP–largely on the strength of corporate money–from an officeless
association to an organization with a nearly half-million-dollar annual
budget.

“In the throes of it all, if it weren’t for corporate donations we couldn’t
have an office, we couldn’t have anything,” says Huffman from her
brick-lined office in downtown Sacramento. “It’s a fact of life.”

But Denise Adams-Simms, executive director of the California Black Health
Network, says the tobacco money is another example of the industry “trying
to buy influence, buy our votes, buy everything.

“The lines get blurred,” says Adams-Simms, whose organization is supporting
Proposition 86, the tobacco-tax measure. “What her private consulting
business does is truly up to her, but it crosses the line when the NAACP
comes out opposed to [the tobacco tax]. The waters get really muddied.”

Last year, the drug companies spent more than $800,000 through Huffman’s
political organization, including $400,000 for a mailer and the $330,000 in
consulting fees.

Huffman, who is also on the board of directors for the national NAACP,
denies any link between her private payments and the public stances of the
organization she heads. But critics point out that her consulting firm lists
the exact same address as the state NAACP. A second political-action
committee, also controlled by Huffman, lists the identical address. The
phone numbers differ by a single digit and share a phone system.

“The NAACP takes positions on what’s right for the community,” says Huffman,
whose position as president is unpaid.

Huffman says her livelihood depends on her work as a political consultant,
and that she only works for those causes also supported by the NAACP.

“I have to do business only with the people we support in the NAACP so that
makes that appearance of impropriety,” she said.

James Sweeney, legislative advocate for the California NAACP, says that
Huffman has agreed to detail all her consulting contracts, from Philip
Morris to the pharmaceutical companies, to the state executive committee
before the endorsement votes are ever taken. She has offered to resign her
post if the committee believed there was a conflict of interest.

But Huffman never disclosed her $12,000-per-month contract with AT&T before
the California NAACP voted to endorse AB 2987, landmark cable legislation
authored by Assembly Speaker Fabian N

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