In business, you would call it a hostile takeover.
Ron Busby, a former small business owner and corporate executive, in 2010 officially launched the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc., an alliance of 80 black chambers of commerce across the country.
“Everyone has someone representing them here in Washington, D.C. except for black businesses,” Busby explained in a recent interview with BMoreNews.com.
Except, there is an organization in D.C. called the National Black Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1992 and headed by Harry Alford.
Now, Alford’s longstanding black business group and Busby’s rival upstart are locked in battle, including a lawsuit over trademark infringement.
And President Obama, the nation’s first African American president, has backed Busby, bringing him to the White House for bill signings and important speeches, and his staff even helping coin the new organization’s motto, “the national voice of the black business community.”
Meanwhile, the slights have left Alford – who voted for and donated to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign – fuming. He calls Obama’s move a calculated strategy to silence him.
“They’re afraid of me. They’re afraid of the Chamber. My work has a lot of credibility, and they’re afraid because I don’t dance to their music,” Alford said in an interview.
An associate of Alford’s went further. “Why is the White House doing this when it at least can be perceived as a way of kneecapping an African American with a long history in the business community?” the source asked.
Certainly, the fiery Alford has at times created headaches for Obama, and Democrats.
In July, 2009, he famously blasted California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer face-to-face in a congressional hearing. When Boxer attempted to offset his testimony against cap-and-trade legislation by highlighting the support of the NAACP, Alford said it was “condescending…you’re trying to put up some other black group to pit against me….I think it’s God-awful.”
A few months later, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on “How are Minorities Faring in the Economic Downturn?” then-Democratic Chairman Edolphus Towns wanted Alford to testify, but the White House intervened, persuading Towns against it, Alford said. Instead, the panel’s top Republican, Darrell Issa, invited Alford.
Most recently, Alford has crusaded against the Obama administration’s strict regulations on for-profit colleges, teaming up with lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus to argue the regulations would disproportionately hurt black students of the schools.
The most controversial parts of the regulations, a top priority of Education Department Sec. Arne Duncan, are still pending at the department, having been delayed by the fierce lobbying of critics.
It’s this issue, Alford and other sources close to the issue say, that has particularly rankled the Obama White House.
While it’s still unclear just how involved the White House has been in promoting Busby’s rival group, the evidence suggests it played a significant role.
Busby has been invited to the White House 23 times to Alford’s five, according to White House visitor logs, including a slew of meetings with top officials from the Office of Public Engagement, an office overseen by Valerie Jarrett.