Will Bailed-Out Companies Shell Out for Sharpton?

GM logThe 11th annual convention of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) will take place April 1-4 in New York City. Last year’s event in Memphis had heavy corporate sponsorship. Of course, a lot has changed since then. Sponsors like Citigroup, Chrysler and General Motors have gone broke, kept alive by billions in taxpayer funds.

Healthier 2008 sponsors include Abbott Laboratories, Allstate, American Honda, Anheuser-Busch (since acquired by InBev), Chase Foundation, Colgate-Palmolive, Continental Airlines, Entergy, FedEx, Ford, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Pfizer, UPS Foundation and Wal-Mart.

At the event, Colgate-Palmolive accepted a “corporate excellence” award, prompting NLPC to ask the company to give it back. In a letter to Reuben Mark, the company’s Chairman, NLPC President Peter Flaherty called the award “a dubious honor indeed.”

In an April 22 letter defending the award, Mark asserted that the NAN convention was “broadly attended by a number of elected officials and many current and past leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement.” The letter did not, however, mention Sharpton’s name once. (The conference program listed a session titled “The Future of Black Politics.” The sole participant was identified as indicted Rep. William Jefferson.)

Flaherty pressed the issue at the Colgate-Palmolive annual meeting in New York City a few weeks later. He confronted Mark directly, “If Colgate is so proud of this award, why can’t you bring yourself to use Sharpton’s name?” Mark refused to answer, prompting Flaherty to taunt, “Why not, aren’t you the Chairman?”

CEO Ian Cook jumped in and said he would answer. After a long-winded nonresponse, Flaherty asked, “OK then, tell us how much shareholders’ money went to Sharpton?” Cook said it was a “modest” amount but refused to specify. Finally, after more prodding by Flaherty, Cook said it was $50,000.