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Money talks and ... money buys influence and fund-raisers control the power.

Washington lawyer and fund-raiser Weldon Latham learned one lesson early on: green is the color that matters above all else when it comes to Washington politics. If you want to play in the same game with the rich and powerful, you have to pay to sit at the table.

And now Latham is trying to spread the message. More and more fund-raisers like Latham are convincing other black businessmen that there are great benefits to donating money to the political system. In fact, Latham believes it's the next step for blacks in their quest for political clout and influence.

When Dennis Garrett went to a Democratic Party fund-raiser last year, the Baltimore businessman came away with something other than a lighter wallet. He found more business for Qualiticare Medical Services, his medical distribution company.

The system worked for him the way it has worked for decades for whites. They donate money to the party and, in turn, are invited to dinners, receptions and briefings. In Garrett's case, he met people who needed his services, and later completed a few lucrative deals with them. It's an arena that, at least on the Democratic side, is becoming colorblind.

"There were black and white businessmen there. The interest for me is being with other businesspeople," Garrett continues. "Politics and business go hand in hand in controlling the destiny of national policy. When we fail to participate in fund-raising, just as when we fail to vote, the people who get elected are those who have no vested interests in our issues."

Black contributions have produced influence right within the Clinton administration. When Clinton was leaning toward reducing government affirmative action to need-based programs last year, black fund-raisers struck back.

Latham, along with Ernest Green, managing director of public finance at Lehman Brother's, and former Wall Street broker Mary Ann Spraggins, asked for a meeting with the President, and got it. The session dramatically changed how the administration handled affirmative action. After listening to his guests, Clinton vowed not to dismantle it.

Democratic party officials estimate that blacks have donated about $5 million to Clinton, starting with his 1992 campaign. Ernie Green has been a key catalyst, organizing the first $1 million black fund-raiser in August 1994 and, last year, a $600,000 luncheon. The trend is also catching on outside of Washington. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown also sponsored a fund-raiser, netting a half million for Clinton's campaign coffers.

"It's important to come to the table through the front door," says Mark T. Harris, a Brown confidante who helped arrange that fund-raiser. "We must show that we are willing and able to give more than just lip service."

Adds Latham, "I fight battles every day to promote our causes, but at least I get in the White House to fight them."
COPYRIGHT 1996 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Washington, DC-based political fund-raiser Weldon Latham and the power of political contributions
Author:Frisby, Mike
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Sep 1, 1996
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