By: Stacy M. Brown
ABOVE: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is among five prominent senators to sign a letter urging accountability in the federal government’s advertising practices. This photo was taken during a panel discussion on criminal justice reform with Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Tim Scott, R-S.C. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)
Five U.S. Senators have joined the fight for accountability in the federal government’s advertising practices – or lack thereof — when it comes to minority-owned news outlets.
A letter penned by the senators demands that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the advertising habits of federal agencies.
Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) each signed the letter.
In the new letter recently sent on United States Senate letterhead to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, a request is made that the GAO issue a report on federal advertising contracts and subcontracts with minority-owned publications, public relations firms, advertising agencies, and media companies.
“News outlets and media companies owned or published by people of color are critical to ensuring that diverse viewpoints are presented to the American people,” the letter stated.
The letter continued: “As one of the largest advertisers in the United States, the federal government should play an active role in ensuring that minority-owned media outlets have fair opportunities to compete for and be awarded federal advertising contracts.”
Menendez said that contracting opportunities through the federal marketplace has proven to be a valuable way for firms to stay competitive in a rapidly evolving marketplace.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), applauded the new letter by the senators. He noted the joint effort between NNPA and the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP) in pushing for a new federal advertising study.
“The NNPA and NAHP thank Senators Booker, Schumer, Menendez, Hirono and Gillibrand for helping to push for this strategically important GAO inquiry,” Chavis said. “2017 should be the year of greater economic equity and parity with respect to more inclusiveness in the billions of dollars spent annually by government departments and agencies on advertising.”
Earlier this year, Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and many of her colleagues in the House formally requested an investigation into how federal government agencies spend advertising dollars.
Jonathan Sanchez, the associate publisher and chief operating officer of the East Los Angeles-based Eastern Group Publications, Inc., which boast a loyal readership of about 500,000 subscribers, says the news is more than welcome.
Earlier this year, after Norton’s letter, Sanchez said he was appreciative that action was finally being taken.
“I have been working on this issue for years and I am glad this is finally becoming a reality,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez has supported efforts by NNPA and NAHP that calls lawmakers to sponsor a new report that will help determine why minority media companies have been excluded from the lucrative advertising deals government agencies have made with other news organizations.
Norton’s letter came a little more than one month after she held a press conference on Capitol Hill with leaders from the NNPA and NAHP.
At that press conference, Norton called on the GAO to perform a new study and update a 2007 report that revealed government agencies spent $4.3 billion in advertising but just a pittance of that amount was spent with minority media publications.
The Congresswoman also secured the support of many others in the House of Representatives.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield, California Rep. Karen Bass, New York Rep. Yvette Clarke, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, and California Rep. Maxine Waters – all Democrats – were among those who signed Norton’s letter and called for action.
“We believe that this request is particularly timely, because GAO will be conducting an audit of spending by federal agencies on public relations and advertising,” Norton said. “We ask [the GAO] to take this opportunity to consider how much is spent with newspapers and other media companies that are owned by people of color and whose audiences are largely African American or Hispanic.”
In 2007, GAO considered spending on advertising contracts with minority-owned businesses by five agencies – the Department of Defense, Department of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – and found that just five percent of the $4.3 billion available for advertising campaigns went to minority-owned businesses.
Norton and others have asked for an update from the GAO as well as more accountability.
The federal government is the largest advertiser in the nation and it plays an important role in supporting minority-focused publications that reach African American, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California.
“Historically, there has been a lack of adequate federal government funding granted to disadvantaged and minority-owned advertising agencies,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield, (D-N.C.). “This issue shows the systemic problems that exist across numerous arenas in both the public and private sector.”