Latino Groups Question Commitment of Political Donors to Community

Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News, May 18, 2015

The number of Latinos eligible to vote in this country is expected to double in size within a generation, but some Latino groups question whether their traditional, moneyed allies are doing enough to leverage those voters.

Although the Latino electorate is repeatedly referred to as the “sleeping giant,” Latinos prefer to describe it as an untapped giant that political spenders fail to give its due for political mobilization.

“For all the angst that exists about low Latino voter turnout, there has never been a commitment from true wealthy donors to mobilize Latino voters with the level of money that needs to be invested,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, NALEO.

Latino leaders have been echoing Vargas’ view and amplifying it since last month when the Democracy Alliance, an organization created to counter conservative funding and movement building, devised its latest strategy for funding a progressive political agenda and recommended to its some 100 members which organizations should get their financial support. Wealthy, mostly white individuals and philanthropic institutions make up the alliance’s donor members.

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Under its new strategy the alliance, formed in 2005, divides its funding streams into four categories. There are 34 groups, including one that is a joint venture, funded in three of the categories. None are considered Latino-led or Latino focused, although some have divisions, campaigns or outreach for Latinos.

The strategy also calls for bringing together previously separate accounts–the Latino Engagement Fund, the Black Engagement Fund and a Youth Engagement Fund–into what it calls the New American Majority Fund. That fund also will add money streams for women, Asian American/Pacific Islanders and the LGBT community. Latino leaders said the Democracy Alliance’s strategy leaves Latino-led groups competing with other communities of color for funding and fails to recognize state work that Latino led groups are doing.

Although Latino group leaders were reluctant to say so publicly, there is a general sentiment among leaders who spoke on background to NBC News that the other groups, whose leadership is largely white, don’t understand the Latino community as well and are ineffective or less effective at engaging the Hispanic community.

“There are some very promising organizations doing incredible work in the community and are trusted: Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, NCLR (National Council of La Raza). But those are the same groups that have to fight over scraps because major investors don’t appreciate (the value) of investing in the community,” said Cristobal Alex, who leads the Latino Victory Project.

Phillips said he believes the New American Majority Fund that collectively focuses donors’ attention on growing political engagement in the communities is more effective than just increasing contributions to individual groups.

“It’s easy for any group to say there’s a lot of white people in a donor group so my group is not getting enough money,” Phillips said. “Those of us who created these vehicles come out of those communities and are trying to move as much money as possible back into those communities.”

Alliance President Gara La Marche said he’s surprised by the backlash. Some $40 million has been spent on Latino-led organizations over the last several years through the Latino Engagement Fund, he said. The alliance helps to raise about some $30 million a year for its core groups, and about $3 million to $5 million is focused on Latino efforts.

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As troubled as Republicans’ relationship is with Latinos, conservatives have put some serious money into penetrating the community, most notably through LIBRE.

With at least $10 million in backing from the billionaire Koch brothers, the conservative group has provided tax preparation, GED classes, driver’s license test preparation and other community services in Latino communities. With that sort of service work, which left-leaning Latino groups have been doing for years, they develop connections with Hispanics and separately inform them of LIBRE’s and the brothers’ conservative philosophies of limited government, low taxes and other issues and candidates who support those ideologies.

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