A new political group called the Black Economic Alliance publicly launched Monday with $3.5 million raised for this year's midterm elections and plans to back 10 to 15 candidates.
The group, which seeks to marshal black business leaders behind an economics-focused political push, announced four initial endorsements of Democratic candidates: Stacey Abrams for Georgia governor, Ben Jealous for Maryland governor, Richard Cordray for Ohio governor and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in his re-election bid.
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Tony Coles, a biotech executive who is the co-chairman of the group, said in addition to the $3.5 million at launch, the group has "conversations ongoing with significant donors and grassroots organizers for additional fundraising in the coming weeks" and plans to spend "additional millions of dollars" on the midterms.
The group's executive director, Akunna Cook, told reporters on a conference call that the group will back candidates in states and districts with at least a 10% black population, and where the elections are likely to be competitive. Cook said the group will both contribute to candidates and back get-out-the-vote efforts.
She said the group's goal is to endorse candidates in 10 to 15 races in this year's midterm elections, with 10 to 12 endorsements in congressional races coming after Labor Day.
The group also has an independent expenditure arm, the Black Economic Alliance Fund, which will spend money backing candidates beyond direct contributions.
"We're evaluating on a case-by-case basis ... what it will take to win" each race, Cook said.
Coles pointed to unfair lending practices, educational inequities and a disproportionate lack of progress in home ownership and wages for black Americans. He said the Black Economic Alliance "isn't a social justice organization. We are an organization seeking political and policy solutions to these problems."
The group launched with a conference call featuring Abrams, Jealous and Cordray.
Abrams, who is seeking to become the nation's first black female governor, pointed to news stories about her personal debt. "I've had to make choices based on economic issues that face everyone but have had an acute effect on me," she said.
Abrams said that since 2016, young black people who might have sat the previous election out are "very much woke and conscious" of the political environment.
"What voters are looking for is authenticity," Abrams said.
"I think it's a false narrative to say that there's some unique sliver of strategy that you have to navigate," she said, adding that candidates can win by showing how "your policies and your values are reflected in their needs and how we can get this done together."
Cordray pointed to a small-business loan program he helped launch in Ohio as an example of how he'd help black business owners. He also said Ohio has an infant mortality crisis that is "especially pronounced in the African-American community" and said he'd protect the state's Medicaid expansion.
Cordray also said the fallout of the housing crisis in the late 2000s diminished many homeowners' wealth.
"This has been a significant problem in America, and it continues to be a significant problem because it's affecting people's access to higher education, because they don't have a nest egg to work from," Cordray said.
Jealous complained that Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan sees inclusion "too often as an impediment -- something that would be nice to do, but he doesn't need to address."