Donald Trump may have scared off several major corporations from sponsoring the Republican National Convention. But those same companies have not shied away from financially supporting Al Sharpton’s controversial nonprofit, the National Action Network, Heat Street has learned.
Like Trump, Sharpton has courted much controversy over the years, much of which involves race, religion and sexuality. He most notably has yet to apologize for championing Tawana Brawley’s false, racially charged rape accusations against a New York assistant district attorney and a state trooper in the 1980s. Sharpton has also made slurs against Jews, Asians and gays; has been accused of being an FBI informant; and has had numerous tangles over unpaid taxes.
Nevertheless, he and his nonprofits have commanded high levels of support from corporate America in recent decades — including from the very companies now balking at Donald Trump.
Time Warner, UPS and Ford Motor Company have all decided against 2016 GOP convention sponsorship. But all three companies have sponsored Sharpton’s annual convention over the past two years, giving an unnamed amount.
Likewise, Coca-Cola has scaled back its Republican National Convention support to $75,000, down from $660,000 in 2012, after receiving a petition saying that sponsorship was tantamount to an endorsement of Trump’s “hateful and racist rhetoric.”
The soda company has been one of Sharpton’s most loyal backers. Heat Street’s exclusive review of several National Action Network convention sponsor lists shows it was a supporter in at least 2016, 2015, 2012 and 2010.
And Google and Walmart—both reportedly considering dropping their support for the RNC—both sponsored National Action Network’s convention earlier this year.
UPS, Ford and Coca-Cola all tell Heat Street politics or individual candidates did not influence their decisions to hold back from convention sponsorship this year. “It was not a political decision, by any means,” UPS’s spokeswoman says.
Ford’s spokesman says it will support neither convention, a decision made in 2015. Of Ford’s sponsorship of a dinner table at the National Action Network convention, a spokesman says, “Ford participates in marketing opportunities that help us reach a broad range of customers.”
A spokeswoman for UPS wrote in an email, “As to your question about NAN– there is no connection to decisions to sponsor conventions and non-profits supported through the UPS Foundation.”
A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said National Action Network is one of a “wide variety of groups” supported by the company, adding that in the U.S., “our charitable contribution efforts focus on diversity and inclusion, education, economic empowerment, water stewardship and well-being.”
By deadline, Time Warner, Google and Walmart had not replied to Heat Street’s request for comment. Time Warner Cable and Ford have said in the past that their financial support should not necessarily be interpreted as an endorsement of National Action Network’s positions.
Macy’s, which has not sponsored past conventions, has publicly denounced Trump while also chronically sponsoring Sharpton’s nonprofit.
The sponsor lists seen by Heat Street do not say how much corporations gave to National Action Network.
But a 2010 National Action Network document reviewed by Heat Street outlined varying levels of sponsorship, also mentioning “benefits” donors could expect in return.
For instance, companies that made a top-level contribution of $100,000 or more would enjoy the “opportunity to appear bi-monthly on Reverend Sharpton’s nationally syndicated radio show which broadcasts in over 40 media markets 5 day a week,” in addition to mentions in National Action Network’s official publications, the document said.
Such lucrative corporate sponsorships have helped National Action Network regain its financial footing. In its 2014 tax filings, the most recent on record, the nonprofit reported no tax debt for the first time in more than a decade.
The nonprofit also managed to end 2014 with $26,000 in positive net assets, the first time in years National Action Network had not been in the red.
That same year, Sharpton earned a $412,000 salary from National Action Network, a 70 percent raise over his 2013 pay and far beyond the $150,00 median compensation for leaders of similar nonprofits.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute.