BY LAUREL ROSENHALL | UPDATED ON OCTOBER 16, 2020
Read through the voter handbook for California’s November election, and a name pops up over and over again: Alice Huffman. As leader of the California NAACP, Huffman has weighed in with positions that critics say run counter to the historic civil rights organization’s mission to advance racial equality in education, housing and criminal justice.
Should voters raise commercial property taxes to pour billions of dollars into schools? Should they make it easier for cities to pass rent control ordinances? Should California outlaw the use of cash bail?
No, no and no, Huffman argues in the ballot handbook, where she is repeatedly identified as president of the California State Conference of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
What the guide doesn’t tell voters is that Huffman’s political consulting firm has been paid more than $1.2 million so far this year by ballot measure campaigns that she or the California NAACP has endorsed. She’s been paid by campaigns funded by commercial property owners fighting the tax increase, corporate landlords opposed to expanding rent control and bail bondsmen who want to keep the cash bail system.
Huffman’s dual roles as both a paid campaign consultant and leader of a vaunted civil rights group amount to an unusual — but legal — arrangement. Though she has held both positions for many years, Huffman was especially sought after this year, as political campaigns respond to the national reckoning over race and frame many of their messages with themes of justice and equity. The small firm Huffman runs with her sister is being paid by five ballot measure campaigns this year, public records show — more than it has taken on in previous elections. Many of them are funded by corporate interests at war with labor unions.
While it’s common for political campaigns to hire strategists to help them communicate with specific constituencies, those consultants usually do not come with a brand as well-known as the NAACP is for its work fighting discrimination over the last century. Huffman’s approach — making money from the campaigns that also wind up with an NAACP seal of approval — is stirring controversy in some Black communities. Critics say it appears the endorsement of the renowned civil rights organization is essentially up for sale.
“I feel like it’s a conflict of interest and I think it’s misleading to the public,” said Carroll Fife, an officer of the Oakland chapter of the NAACP who disagrees with the state organization on several ballot measure endorsements. “It’s unfortunate. Politics is gross.”
Fife works as the executive director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit that is campaigning for Proposition 15 to raise commercial property taxes and boost funding for schools. She also supports Prop. 21 to make it easier for cities to expand rent control, and says both measures would help California’s Black communities. Two-thirds of Black households in the state are renters, census data shows, and many Black students are concentrated in high-poverty schools.
Huffman declined to be interviewed for this article, as did other members of the California NAACP executive board. …