Jesse Jackson Accused of 'Shaking Down' Toyota

By David Thibault | July 7, 2008 | 8:28pm EDT

( - Jesse Jackson's latest corporate deal, which has Toyota Motor Sales USA agreeing to spend nearly $8 billion over 10 years to increase minority participation in the company, is being attacked by conservative groups who say Jackson continues a "shameless" pattern of "shaking down" corporate America for "private gain."

In announcing the agreement with Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition, Toyota called it a "comprehensive rededication to diversity and inclusion."

The company agreed to spend $7.8 billion over the next decade, or roughly a third more than what it currently spends, on a variety of programs to increase the hiring and training of minorities as well as the amount of business conducted with minority-owned equipment suppliers and advertisers.

In its press release, Toyota did not mention that Jackson had threatened an economic boycott of the company. Instead, Toyota referred to "a series of meetings" the company had had with Jackson, in which he "provided Toyota with an opportunity for a comprehensive review of its existing diversity programs."

But, David A. Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU), Tuesday charged that Toyota had "yielded to threats and pressure from Jesse Jackson to spend millions of dollars with Jackson-related entities," and added that the deal should be "immediately subject to investigation by the appropriate authorities to determine if criminal extortion has occurred and whether federal criminal prosecutions are warranted."

Glenda Gill, Director of the Automotive Project for Jackson's Rainbow/Push Coalition, denied any illegal tactics were used in the talks with Toyota.

"We have not arm-twisted anybody. They very well have the opportunity to say no, and we very well have the opportunity to say no, we will not buy your products. I get so emotional and bothered by these types of comments. We met. We negotiated. A good deal was negotiated. Nobody was extorted. Nobody was told that they would be punished. What we said was, 'if you boycott us, we boycott you.'"

Toyota spokeswoman Tracy Underwood also denied that Jackson used either arm-twisting or extortion.

"No one from Rainbow/Push or Rev. Jackson or anything like that has received any payments or contributions. None of our programs that we put in place will be to the benefit of Rainbow/Push or Rev. Jesse Jackson, so to me, the word extortion doesn't apply."

Underwood did acknowledge Jackson's boycott threat, but said the Rainbow/Push Coalition founder had only served as a "catalyst" for the changes.

In February of this year, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), alleging that Jackson's Citizenship Education Fund (CEF) had violated several tax code provisions applying to non-profit organizations and that Jackson had threatened an economic boycott against Anheuser Busch, Inc. to help his two sons gain a lucrative Budweiser distributorship in Chicago.

Upon filing the complaint, NLPC President Peter Flaherty said the Anheuser Busch case was only one example of Jackson's efforts to "blackmail U.S. corporations into agreeing to his demands."

Flaherty also cited the merger between telephone giants GTE and Bell Atlantic, which he said Jackson opposed, "until the two companies between them, kicked in a million dollars to CEF."

In March, the American Conservative Union also targeted Jackson in complaints filed with the IRS and the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In the FEC complaint, Keene charged that Jackson made illegal corporate contributions to the Gore/Lieberman campaign and the Democratic National Committee during last year's presidential race.

Neither the FEC nor the IRS has yet ruled on the complaints filed by the conservative groups, however, the Toyota deal "may provide fodder for amending our complaint," Flaherty said Tuesday, because "it seems to fit the M.O. that we've complained about ... regarding other corporations."

"[Jackson is] shameless, he's not giving up, and he's going to continue shaking down corporate America," Flaherty added.

According to Keene, Jackson has "essentially threatened severe commercial injury to a major international corporation which has now agreed to make millions of dollars in expenditures to selected individuals, firms and entities, presumably subject to Jackson's approval."

Keene is demanding the full disclosure of all those who will receive payments from Toyota, "the amounts of their contracts, grants or salaries and how the individuals and firms were selected."

Underwood insisted there are no plans for Jackson to suggest which individuals or companies should receive the contracts from Toyota.

"The process by which certain people will be selected will be the same process that we've always used. Now, whether these people are friends of Rev. Jackson, I would have no idea. We don't ask them that on their application forms."

For Jackson, the agreement with Toyota may solidify a political comeback, following a hail of questions earlier this year about his organization's financial affairs and revelations that he fathered a child out of wedlock with one of his former employees.

"Regardless of what happened to the Rev. Jackson personally, the organization stayed very focused about the work that we do. This is what we do. This is who we are," Gill said.

Despite his latest business coup, however, Jackson's current credibility is "far reduced," according to Flaherty.

"I think the real jury, where Jesse Jackson is concerned, is corporate America and I think it remains to be seen whether there will be more successes like the Toyota case or whether companies are starting to back away from him," Flaherty said.

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