The Rev. Al Sharpton's charity is supported by some heavyweight corporations even though it is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn.
According to the New York Post, Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN) annual conference in April was sponsored by nearly 50 companies, including PepsiCo, General Motors, Chrysler, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Continental Airlines, Johnson & Johnson and Chase.
The Post also reports that Anheuser-Busch, Colgate-Palmolive, Macy's and Pfizer have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to NAN.
According to the Post, CEOs contribute to NAN out of fear of negative publicity or a consumer boycott. Sharpton is sometimes hired as a consultant.
Sharpton has a history of aggressively pursuing donations, reported the Post: In December 2006, Sharpton threatened to call a boycott of GM over the closing of an African-American-owned GM dealership in The Bronx, and he picketed outside GM headquarters on Fifth Avenue. In November 2003, Sharpton picketed DaimlerChrysler's Chicago car show and threatened a boycott over alleged racial bias in car loans. In 2003, Sharpton targeted American Honda for not hiring enough African-Americans in management.
All three car companies donated money after those episodes.
"I think this is quite clearly a shakedown operation," Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center in Virginia, a conservative corporate watchdog, told the Post. "He's good at harassing people and making noise. CEOs give him his way because it is a lot easier than confronting him."
Sharpton rejected any suggestion that NAN pressures corporations for cash.
"That's the old shakedown theory that the anti-civil-rights forces have used against us forever," he told the Post. "Why can't they come up with one company that says that? No one has criticized me."
NAN is being probed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo's office has found NAN had failed to file years' worth of financial reports. The group has filed more records, but the AG's office said it won't release them pending the US attorney's probe.
In its 2006 IRS filing, the latest available, NAN reported about $1 million in contributions and $1.1 million in expenses and programs. It owes the IRS $1.9 million in payroll taxes, the Post reported.
A NAN spokesman said the group is cooperating with authorities "to pay whatever obligations it owes and continues to do so."
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