A new political group focused on boosting the economic fortunes of black Americans announced itself on Monday by endorsing four Democrats in closely watched races, including Maryland gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous.
The Black Economic Alliance, which was formed by African American business leaders, promised to invest what was necessary to help Jealous, a former NAACP president, beat popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
The group also endorsed two other Democratic candidates for governor — Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Richard Cordray in Ohio — as well as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is seeking another term and running well ahead of his Republican opponent, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey A. Stewart.
All four Democrats have high profiles nationally and are in heated races in states where the black population is near or above the U.S. national average.
The alliance said it raised $3.5 million from 55 donors over the past two months and plans to invest in “competitive contests” that emphasize improved economic conditions for black voters and where African American turnout is crucial to victory.
“We’re supporting candidates where the black vote can be decisive and where every dollar counts,” said Akunna Cook, executive director of the Black Economic Alliance. Cook declined to specify how much the group would spend on Jealous, who has vastly less to spend than Hogan. But she said the alliance is “evaluating on a case-by-case basis what it takes for our candidates to win.”
In an interview, Tony Coles, the organization’s co-chairman, described the group’s formation as the first time the black business community has come together in a concerted political effort focused on economic progress for black Americans. Previously, the executives’ fundraising efforts tended to be more ad hoc, with leaders writing individual checks. That began to change after a meeting last summer, Coles said.
“As we moved into 2017, we recognized that the stakes were very high in terms of the economic opportunities for all Americans,” Coles said. “We began asking, ‘What can we do?’ And we realized in that discussion that there was great power in the collective.”
The group’s board includes alumni of the Obama and Clinton campaigns as well as executives from the tech, finance, media and pharmaceutical industries. Coles is chairman and chief executive of the biotech firm Yumanity Therapeutics.
Even though the four candidates endorsed Monday are all Democrats, the group says it is not aligned with either political party and instead is focused on policies aimed at raising black employment levels, homeownership and income.
“I think there’s broad recognition that the work that we’re focused on is very much different than the traditional party organizations,” Cook said. “I think it’s a feeling that neither party is particularly focused on the needs of the black community where economic progress is concerned.”
The group plans to make 10 to 12 endorsements in congressional races after Labor Day.
Abrams, if elected, would become the nation’s first black female governor, while Jealous is vying to become Maryland’s first black governor. The two have known each other for years and have endorsed each other’s candidacies.
Jealous has built his progressive campaign on a platform of social justice and improving the lives of working families, advocating a $15 minimum wage, reducing the state’s prison population, legalizing marijuana and creating debt-free college. He won a six-way primary to challenge Hogan, whose approval ratings hover near 70 percent in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
As of the last campaign filing deadline, a week before the June primary, Hogan had $8.2 million on hand, while Jealous had $260,190. Since then, the Republican Governors Association has spent more than $1 million in unanswered attack ads.
Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, is popular in Virginia and is considered the heavy favorite to beat Stewart, who has embraced Trump-style politics in a state where the president has low approval ratings.
Michael Scherer contributed to this report.