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Art of the Corporate Shakedown

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There is probably no poverty pimp that is lower than a leech. This type of hustler wants to suck up as much money as he/she can within a very short period. These guys are found all over the nation and many try to camouflage themselves by “representing” a nonprofit. As they demand money from reputable corporations who provide products and services to the public and create jobs by the thousands. They have no shame whatsoever. It is like a soft robbery. When they succeed there is damage to sincere groups trying to protect the under-served or under-represented. Money given to them is the money that was formerly earmarked for the community. That is where the damage is done.

It happens so much in the activist arena that when true accomplishments are achieved the leeches will claim, “He must have been paid off. How much did he get?” When we protested a United Air Lines billion dollar project in Indianapolis, no one believed we could make them do the right thing. When it was announced that victory was ours, a rumor went around claiming that I took a $300,000 payoff. I was enraged by this, being that Kay and I were having financial pains at the time and we would not have lowered ourselves even if it were offered to us. They didn’t want to talk about the $200 million we brought to the local Black businesses. They just called it a payoff.

Another good example is when the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) filed a discrimination suit against U.S. West (now Quest). This went on for a couple of years and it was contentious. The Black businesses of Denver were terrified that we would come from D.C. and sue their biggest employer. It was like “You going to get us in trouble.” I would reply, “You Negroes just sit back and watch how Black folks fight those who discriminate against our businesses.”

They actually thought we were going to be in trouble for challenging a Fortune 100 company. Every time I went to Denver, I would be given certain evidence to support our suit by anonymous citizens, mostly US West employees. During depositions, I would let the US West lawyers know that I had such information. The strategy worked and we settled. The last settlement discussion with the CEO was done on their corporate jet that took us to Washington Dulles Airport.

You would think the people of Denver would marvel at the victory for our five members who were made whole by the settlement money. No, they claimed that I sold them out during the flight. That’s silly. Our plaintiffs were happy with the settlement money they received and nothing bad happened on that plane – the NBCC did not receive a nickel. Nothing humiliates a leech more than someone playing the game correctly with honor and succeeding.

Mergers by major corporations draw leeches like no other transaction. AT&T was merging with Pacific Bell and officials of a California nonprofit decided they would file a lawsuit to contest the merger. This was their modus operandi whenever there was a merger in California. They would file suit, put up a major fit, and embarrass the companies in the public. Then they would offer an easy settlement. The settlement would be a couple of easy steps and no money except reimbursement for their legal fees. The law firm would be a one man shop. That man would actually be the real principal of the nonprofit and his legal fees would be $600 per hour. 500 hours of legal fees would amount to $300,000 in his pocket and a kick back to the nonprofit. I saw this guy and his nonprofit do this three times in two years.

High level leeches can receive more than a million dollars in a merger. They threaten to hold up the process, costing market share and value for the companies trying to merge. It can be intimidating to stock holders, board of directors and executives. One day I hope companies would stop submitting to this and hold their ground.

So now, Comcast and Time Warner have proposed a merger. This is major in terms of market share, annual sales and a number one position in the telecommunications industry. Its “tall cotton” as southerners would say. Trust me, the leeches will be coming. Some will be subtle and try to do the shake down behind the scenes and others will be boisterous and try to drag it through the “court” of public opinion. So let’s watch as they emerge and try to discredit these two major corporations in hopes of fast cash or hush money. I don’t think it is going to work this time. American corporations have had their fill of it.

Harry Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org

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