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Buoyed by the Democratic midterm election victories, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) says he will push this coming year to strengthen the Congressional Black Caucus’ focus on minority business. Scott tells Legal Times that the CBC’s goal, in light of the new Congress, is to use the annual Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend as an opportunity to host symposiums and raise the profile of minority businesses. The 2007 Legislative Weekend will be held in September. “A lot of the pieces are laying around; the foundation has been established. I want to go in for the tightening of things,” says Scott, who, in 1969, was the third African-American to graduate from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. Historically, the CBC, which is currently composed of all Democrats, has focused heavily on social-justice issues, with the business community traditionally staying on the sidelines. And even today, the CBC’s core mission remains focused heavily on health care, employment issues, and retirement security. But Scott and his staff, along with the Small Business and Financial Services committees, are developing a plan to establish symposiums or regional hearings across the country highlighting minority small business ownership and how these businesses could work with the federal government. The incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), has expressed interest in helping, Scott says. According to estimates from the 2000 census provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration, 11.8 percent of whites are self-employed business owners, while only 4.8 percent of blacks are self-employed. When the CBC convenes next month it will have 43 members and a new chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.). And with the caucus boasting such strong pro-business members as Reps. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the K Street community is listening to (and courting) it. Nicole Venable, director of congressional public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says her association has had a large outreach effort to the CBC over the past few years. Chamber President Thomas Donohue hosted a first-ever dinner last year for CBC members. Additionally, three House members — Scott, Wynn, and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) — received the Chamber’s Spirit of Enterprise Award for their pro-business voting records. The Chamber has also worked with the CBC Foundation on a member-to-member program designed to allow women and minorities to access information on procurement opportunities and to participate in supplier diversity programs within large corporations. The Chamber is planning to meet again with the entire caucus next year. As far as economic issues go, the CBC is interested in reducing employment discrimination and predatory lending practices and expanding affordable rental and ownership of housing — efforts that aren’t natural issues for the business community. “Obviously, there are some members of the business community that started doing more outreach, but there’s always been a pro-business component of their [the CBC's] agenda,” says Robert Drummer, a lobbyist who is a past president of the Washington Government Relations Group, a lobby association for African-Americans. “The CBC may not be with every business group on every issue, but that’s not to say you just ignore them.” Complicating the caucus’ potential business agenda are fissures within its membership. A growing number of CBC members in recent years have divided the caucus by backing pieces of Republican legislation aimed at bolstering the business community. Last spring, three members of the caucus voted for the Communications, Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006, which would have federalized video-service franchise licenses, the licenses that cable companies and other providers must obtain in order to do business in a given community. Opponents argued that the measure would allow broadband providers to ignore the need to upgrade facilities in less-affluent neighborhoods. One of the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), is a member of the CBC. Additionally, 10 CBC members voted with the Republicans in 2005 on the bankruptcy reform bill, despite the concerns of many CBC members that it did not adequately address predatory lending practices. Eight members backed the repeal of the estate tax. “I think one of the mistakes people make about the CBC is that they view them as one large entity that speaks with one voice,” says Venable. “They are a living, breathing entity of diverse interests and views.”
Joe Crea can be contacted at [email protected].

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