Four years after D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton publicly condemned federal agencies for spending very little of their advertising dollars with Black-owned media, another member of the Congressional Black Caucus has openly voiced the same concerns.
“The federal government spends billions of dollars a year in paid advertising. However, the federal government’s process for allocating advertising dollars fails to recognize and value the unique relationship that Black-owned media have with their audiences,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden.
Co-signed by Norton, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and 34 other members of Congress, the letter pointed out that the standard process for spending federal advertising dollars consists of giving a prime contract to a large white-owned advertising agency with the stipulation that the agency includes a multicultural agency as a subcontractor.
“However, the prime contractor controls how much money goes to the subcontractor and how that subcontractor spends that money,” Johnson wrote. “This routinely results in a smaller fraction of federal dollars going to the subcontractors. And, when the subcontractor does get to spend money, it is usually directed to spend that money with Black-targeted media and not with Black-owned media.”
He pointed out that “successful Black businesses hire and promote Black Americans at a much higher rate than other businesses. They are, consequently, the key to building successful Black communities.”
In 2018, Norton commissioned a Government Accountability Office report that revealed that the federal government spent more than $5 billion on advertising over five years. Still, Black-owned businesses received only $51 million, or 1.02 percent of those funds.
“I will work with minority publishers to press [my colleagues] in Congress to demand greater spending on minority-owned outlets to reach minority audiences that most traditional outlets do not,” Norton stated during a 2018 news conference with members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association on Capitol Hill. “The GAO report showed, as we expected, that the federal government has a long way to go to ensure equal opportunities for minority-owned news outlets. As the nation’s largest advertiser, the federal government has an obligation to provide advertising opportunities to news outlets and media companies owned or published by people of color.”
In April, dozens of federal agencies launched plans for more equity to open federal programs to more people and reduce racial disparities caused by government decisions.
“Advancing equity is not a one-year project. It’s a generational commitment,” Biden said. “These plans are an important step forward, reflecting the Biden Harris administration’s work to make the promise of America real for every American, and I mean every American.”
In the Johnson-led letter, members of Congress have issued a request for Biden Administration to investigate and report back complex data on “the process by which they grant advertising contracts, and how they oversee those contracts after they are granted.”
“The federal government spends billions of dollars a year in paid advertising. However, the federal government’s process for allocating advertising dollars fails to recognize and value the unique relationship that Black-owned media have with their audiences,” Johnson wrote.