By Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein
The New York Post
For more than a decade, corporations have shelled out thousands of dollars in donations and consulting fees to Sharpton’s National Action Network. What they get in return is the reverend’s supposed sway in the black community or, more often, his silence.
Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal met with the activist preacher after leaked emails showed her making racially charged comments about President Obama. Pascal was under siege after a suspected North Korean cyberattack pressured the studio to cancel its release of “The Interview,” which depicts the assassination of dictator Kim Jong-un.
Pascal and her team were said to be “shaking in their boots” and “afraid of the Rev,” The Post reported.
No payments to NAN have been announced, but Sharpton and Pascal agreed to form a “working group” to focus on racial bias in Hollywood.
Sharpton notably did not publicly assert his support for Pascal after the meeting — what observers say seems like a typical Sharpton “shakedown” in the making. Pay him in cash or power, critics say, and you buy his support or silence.
“Al Sharpton has enriched himself and NAN for years by threatening companies with bad publicity if they didn’t come to terms with him. Put simply, Sharpton specializes in shakedowns,” said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal & Policy Center, a Virginia-based watchdog group that has produced a book on Sharpton.
And Sharpton, who now boasts a close relationship with Obama and Mayor Bill de Blasio, is in a stronger negotiating position than ever.
“Once Sharpton’s on board, he plays the race card all the way through,” said a source who has worked with the Harlem preacher. “He just keeps asking for more and more money.”
Horse in the race
One example of Sharpton’s playbook has emerged in tax filings and a state inspector general’s report.
In 2008, Plainfield Asset Management, a Greenwich, Conn.-based hedge fund, made a $500,000 contribution to New York nonprofit Education Reform Now. That money was immediately funneled to the National Action Network.
The donation raised eyebrows. Although the money was ostensibly to support NAN’s efforts to bring “educational equality,” it also came at a time that Plainfield was trying to get a lucrative gambling deal in New York.
Plainfield had a $250 million stake in Capital Play, a group trying to secure a license to run the coming racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. Capital Play employed a lobbyist named Charlie King, who also was the acting executive director of NAN.
Sharpton has said that most of the Plainfield contribution went to pay King’s salary.
King’s company, the Movement Group, was paid $243,586 by NAN in 2008, tax records show.
Harold Levy, a former New York City schools chancellor who was a managing director at Plainfield at the time, has denied the contribution was made to curry favor with Sharpton or anyone else. But a year later, as the battle for the racino license heated up, NAN raked in another $100,000 from representatives of the AEG consortium, which was the successor company to Capital Play.
One AEG member emailed another in 2009 saying, “Sharpton lobbied [then-Gov. David Paterson] hard over the weekend on our behalf,” according to the state inspector general’s 2010 report on the corrupt racino licensing process.
In order to discredit SL Green, one of the rival bidders whose plan included a Hard Rock Hotel, an AEG executive sent another email outlining tactics to conscript local leaders to its cause.
“We are going to need it, and we are going to need . . . Sharpton to piss on hard rock,” according to the undated email cited in the IG’s report.
Sharpton denied he lobbied on behalf of AEG.
The donations, meanwhile, came at an opportune time for Sharpton, as NAN was deep in debt to the IRS in 2008. It owed $1.3 million in unpaid federal, state and city payroll taxes including interest and penalties.
AEG viewed its payments to Sharpton as more of an insurance policy so he wouldn’t scuttle its chances by criticizing the group, said a source familiar with the racino controversy.
Cost of doing business
Sharpton raised $1 million for NAN at his 60th birthday bash in October, with donations rolling in from unions and a corporate roster of contributors including AT&T, McDonald’s, Verizon and Walmart.
Companies have long gotten in line to pay Sharpton. Macy’s and Pfizer have forked over thousands to NAN, as have General Motors, American Honda and Chrysler.
NAN had repeatedly and without success asked GM for donations for six years beginning in August 2000, a GM spokesman told The Post. Then, in 2006, Sharpton threatened a boycott of GM over the planned closing of an African-American-owned dealership in The Bronx. He picketed outside GM’s Fifth Avenue headquarters. GM wrote checks to NAN for $5,000 in 2007 and another $5,000 in 2008.
Sharpton targeted American Honda in 2003 for not hiring enough African-Americans in management positions.
“We support those that support us,” Sharpton wrote to the company. “We cannot be silent while African-Americans spend hard-earned dollars with a company that does not hire, promote or do business with us in a statistically significant manner.”
Two months later, car company leaders met with Sharpton, and Honda began to sponsor NAN’s events. The protests stopped.
Sharpton landed a gig as a $25,000-a-year adviser to Pepsi after he threatened a consumer boycott of the soda company in 1998, saying its ads did not portray African-Americans. He held the position until 2007.
As for Sony, Sharpton denied that his meeting with Pascal resulted in a donation to NAN.
“I have had no discussion with her about money,” Sharpton told The Post. “There was never even a remote discussion about money.”