Behind every political campaign and organization, there is at least one consultant. Though the United States continues to become more diverse over time, these consultants don’t seem to change. The political consulting industry is dominated by the same “establishment” firms that have run campaigns for decades.
I created the National Association of Diverse Consultants (NADC) one year ago as an answer to the excuse we often hear from campaigns and organizations that hire the same majority-white consultants: “Well, we would have hired you, but we didn’t know your firm existed.” There are many challenges to owning a person of color owned firm, visibility being one of them. The NADC was created to solve that problem by highlighting minority-owned firms, celebrating their achievements, and making their information accessible through an online registry. We currently have over 60 member firms from around the country that are owned by people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community. All of their contact information is easy to find, as well as information on the services they provide which include mail, phones, polling, fundraising, and more — all found on thenadc.com.
On the one year anniversary of the NADC, I want to have an honest conversation about the challenges that come with owning a diverse firm and the work that still needs to be done to level the playing field in the political consulting industry.
Minority Businesses are Outnumbered
There are over 30 million small businesses in the United States — but only one quarter of them are minority-owned. Overall, only half of all small businesses survive past five years and only one-third last 10 or more years. When it comes to capital and starting a small business, over 60% start with $10,000 or less, and three-quarters of those are self-funded. All of this presents a look at the variety of challenges that owning a small business poses, especially for people of color.
A Challenging Cycle
Starting a business requires a great amount of capital. People who come from communities that historically and statistically have less institutional wealth can feel that it is an impossible task. Few banks are willing to lend a financial hand, as big banks only approve roughly one-quarter of small business loans. A study from the Small Business Administration in 2013 found that minority-owned firms operate with significantly less capital than white-owned firms, not just at their onset but throughout subsequent years. This poses great limitations on a minority-owned business’ ability to grow and be successful.
This lack of capital becomes more evident when competing against establishment firms for clients. Establishment firms are often created when a principal leaves their position within another firm or large organization to begin their own business. When this happens, they often keep their biggest clients to fund their new firm. This is not the typical experience for most people of color that navigate white spaces, as it can be difficult to work their way up. In Fortune 500 companies, for example, 72% of senior leadership positions are held by white men. This points to a serious institutional problem in the pipeline when it comes to people of color.
This cycle continues when candidates who want to be seen as legitimate and worthy of investment feel pressured to hire consultants recommended to them by national, state, and local party leaders. These leaders recommend consultants that are on their approved vendor lists, which include the established consulting firms with which they have long-standing relationships. Together, these elements exacerbate obstacles that new minority-owned firms face with finding clients to add to their resume of work and will help them earn respect in the industry. Through work comes validation, but with few clients willing to work with minority-owned firms, it becomes a never-ending cycle.
Fortunately, I do see changes starting to happen in the political industry. A report from PowerPac+ found that between 2010 and 2012, the Democratic Party — including the DNC, DCCC, and DSCC — spent less than 2% of its money on minority-owned firms; of the 284 firms they hired, only 13 of them were minority-owned. Since then, under Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján, the DCCC has taken big steps to be more inclusive in their strategies and fix their diversity problem through extensive questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, meetings, and hiring processes. They’ve done it all in a very short time, showing that it is possible to change establishment organizations. I am confident that these deliberate measures taken within the DCCC to work with minority-owned firms will be reflected in the next spending analysis.
I have seen this mission to increase diversity extend to campaigns as well. From the beginning, Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was determined to hire staff that was reflective of the American people, from senior staffers to political consultants. His campaign spent over 6 million dollars on minority-owned consulting firms, boosting their capital and experience in ways most other campaigns (especially presidential campaigns) have not.
As the American electorate continues to become more diverse, we have seen a demand for and emphasis on cultural competency in our industry. Campaigns are finally recognizing that voters of color should be communicated with early on in the cycle. Who better to communicate with these growing communities than those that have grown up there, speak the same languages, and understand the political dynamics there? We need to continue pushing institutions, candidates, and committees to demonstrate that they are not only aware of the diversity problem, but also that they are working to remedy it within their own organizations. The National Association of Diverse Consultants offers a solution to the problem and is adding new members to its registry each week. We’re dedicated to making our presence and value known. Together, we can do better.
Written by: Chuck Rocha, Founder and President, Solidarity Strategies
Kristian Rivera, “30 Insightful Small Business Statistics.” Fit Small Business, May 2017.
Power PAC+, “Analysis and Review of Democratic Party Spending.” June 2014.