July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011 | Commentary on Political Thought

La Raza: Carrying Obama’s Agua

The National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group that frames nearly every national policy debate as a Latino issue, will hear a speech from President Obama today, as the president delivers his latest sales pitch to Hispanics. La Raza regularly mirrors the White House message on a range of topics, and a careful look at the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy organization reveals a high level of messaging coordination with the White House.

Cecilia Muñoz has served as the Obama administration’s director of intergovernmental affairs from the very beginning. Muñoz was previously La Raza’s senior vice president in charge of research, advocacy and legislation.

Her tenure at the White House has coincided with a sharp increase in federal funding for La Raza, according to a recent Judicial Watch investigation. This flow of funds has only solidified the group’s advocacy for liberal policies that solidify the Obama administration’s position among a key constituency of Hispanics.

La Raza is officially nonprofit and nonpartisan, but its president, Janet Murguía, has donated overwhelmingly to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  And the group’s stance on policy issues consistently conforms with those of the Democratic Party.

During the past two weeks’ debt-limit debate, La Raza has opposed changes to government-run health programs for low-income families, urging lawmakers to “keep their hands off the Medicaid.”

“Never has it been so clear that the health and welfare of Latinos is at stake,” one breaking alert from La Raza warned. “Last-minute budget negotiations continue to keep Medicaid cuts on the table, keeping the insurance of Latinos and millions of other Americans on a lifeline.”

Another alert from La Raza cautioned: “With all of the talk about balancing the budget, there are too many leaders keeping quiet about the hundreds of billions of dollars at risk in the Medicaid program, an essential source of health insurance for Latino children, families, and the elderly.”

These messages align with talking points coming from the White House and congressional Democrats. Both have resisted substantive reforms to entitlement programs, including Medicaid.

La Raza has also advocated for Elizabeth Warren to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren, who is not Hispanic, was the subject of a June 2 policy update from La Raza that lobbied for her confirmation.

“Warren has a long history of fighting for consumers,” the update read. “She has made frequent site visits throughout the nation — including to [La Raza’s] Affiliates — to assess the fallout of the economic crisis. She knows how our families struggle. However, petty politics is rearing its ugly head once again, and some members of Congress are trying to weaken the CFPB’s influence by denying Warren’s appointment and maintaining the status quo.”

Warren, an Obama ally, ultimately lacked serious confirmation support, and last week President Obama tapped Richard Cordray instead. La Raza hasn’t commented on the White House’s course-correction.

Even before Warren became a D.C. lightning rod, La Raza lobbied for the passage of Dodd–Frank, the financial regulatory bill enacted last year which gave the CFPB new teeth.

“Several elements of this bill stand out as true victories for our community,” wrote Janis Bowdler, deputy director for La Raza’s Wealth-Building Policy Project, in a June 26, 2010, email to supporters. “[W]e will now have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that authorizes and enforces strong consumer protections. Indeed, this is a new era in the financial world, and it wouldn’t have happened without your help.”

The White House rewarded La Raza for its support with access to a key government official just weeks after Obama signed the 2,300-page law last July. On Aug. 31, 2010, Diana Farrell, then-deputy director of the Obama’s National Economic Council, spoke on a conference call to La Raza activists about “what that means for the Latino community.”

In addition to its special access inside the White House, La Raza advertised the availability of staffers from the offices of Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, both Democrats, for a series of calls on “Banking Reform: What’s in It for Me?

The Dodd–Frank law imposed sweeping regulations on the financial sector, many of which are still being developed. But it failed to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two major contributors to the financial crisis for its lending practices to unqualified borrowers.

Home ownership also ranks as a top issue for the La Raza. Just last week the organization took credit for convincing the White House to establish “a new policy allowing homeowners to put their mortgage payments on hold for up to 12 months while they secure new employment.”

La Raza similarly boasted of its impact after the White House expressed opposition last month to legislation containing cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; according to La Raza, 42 percent of the welfare program’s participants are Latino.

La Raza’s communications director did not respond to an interview request to discuss the organization’s relationship with the White House.

While La Raza does appear closely aligned with the Obama administration on most issues, tension between the two is growing on the one policy debate most closely associated with the organization: immigration.

Two weeks ago Murguía, La Raza’s president, issued Obama a warning for not delivering immigration reforms he promised during his presidential campaign.

“Many in our community are disillusioned about the promise they heard at our conference three years ago, where the president promised to make reform a priority,” Murguía said last week.

The DREAM Act remains a top priority for La Raza. It would grant legal permanent resident status to illegal immigrants who lived in the United States before age 16 and who agreed to attend college or join the military.

According to La Raza ally Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, pressure from La Raza to act on immigration is one reason New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer will hold a hearing on the issue this week. “I think Sen. Schumer is having a hearing, Rep. Gutierrez told reporters, “because the president is speaking at National Council of La Raza and they want you to think they’re moving on it.”

That kind of clout helped land Obama as today’s keynote speaker during La Raza’s annual conference in Washington. The president, who has spent weeks negotiating a debt-limit deal, will step away from the high-stakes talks to rally the group’s membership with barely a week left before his own Aug. 2 deadline.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Robert B. Bluey Vice President, Publishing and Editor in Chief
The Daily Signal

First appeared in The Daily Caller