The longtime leader of the California NAACP has resigned amid conflict-of-interest allegations after her private company earned $1.7 million endorsing ballot measures earlier this year.
Alice Huffman, 84, claimed that health issues led to her resignation as the president of the California Hawaii State Conference of the NAACP. She plans to step down Dec. 1. The allegations have nothing to do with her decision to quit the post she has held since 1999, she said.
“It was a demanding and rewarding position,” Huffman said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “But it’s time to turn over the leadership to someone else.”
Huffman is facing scrutiny for her work on various ballot measure campaigns in the November 2020 election. She is accused of taking money from big business and the bail bond industry in exchange for her opposition to abolishing cash bail, among other issues.
In addition to her NAACP post, Huffman heads AC Public Affairs, a Sacramento political consulting firm she runs with her sister. Leading up to the 2020 election, AC Public Affairs worked for opposition campaigns on five ballot measures, according to state campaign finance records.
The bail bond industry’s campaign against Proposition 25 hired Huffman’s company, paying it $200,000 to oppose a plan to abolish California’s cash bail system. The measure failed.
The push to abolish the cash bail system in California was led by a group of billionaires.
John Arnold of Texas, who gave $5 million to support the committee, was the biggest individual donor. Arnold is a former hedge fund manager-turned-philanthropist. He now runs his charitable and advocacy arm, Arnold Ventures (formerly known as The Laura and John Arnold Foundation).
The second and third largest donors to Yes On Prop 25 were Steve and Connie Ballmer, who each gave $3 million to support its passage. Steve Ballmer was the longtime CEO of Microsoft. Patty Quillin, spouse of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, gave $1 million to support Proposition 25. Other billionaire donors include Tom Steyer, a retired hedge fund investor and former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who gave $500,000, and Oklahoma-based philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who gave $250,000.
Proposition 25, a referendum on a law that former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2018, aimed to replace cash bail with a risk-based algorithm. If it had passed, the new system would allow some people unable to afford cash bail to be freed until trial according to the risk they proposed.
Supporters of Proposition 25 included the state’s Democratic Party, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Steven Bradford, vice-chairman of the California Legislative Black Caucus.
California’s NAACP officially opposed the use of an algorithm. “Computer models may be good for recommending songs and movies, but using these profiling methods to decide who gets a loan has been proven to hurt communities of color,” wrote Huffman in the state’s voter guide for the argument section against Proposition 25.
In a campaign ad for No on Proposition 25 Hoffman wrote, “Prop. 25 ends our right to put up bail for anyone, even though they may have been racially profiled. Prop. 25 replaces bail with computer algorithms. Academic studies show that these algorithms are biased. Some call them black boxes. And Prop. 25’s new bureaucracy delays justice for innocent people stuck in jail. The NAACP asks you to vote no on Proposition 25.”
Huffman’s statement has been criticized as misleading, The Sacramento Bee reported.
While she is correct that Proposition 25 would have ended bail in the state of California, she is misleading when she says that it replaces bail with a computer algorithm.
While the pre-trial risk assessment model does analyze if a person is at risk to re-offend or fail to appear before the court and does use computer algorithms, “judicial officers remain the final authority in making pretrial release or detention decisions,” according to the Judicial Branch of California.
Judges have the power to override those recommendations.
Huffman also weighed in on other controversial propositions on the ballot in November. She sided with ride-sharing companies that backed Proposition 22, which was approved by voters. The measure will permit Uber, Lyft and their peers to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors, making them ineligible for employee benefits such as health insurance. Huffman’s company received $95,000 for consulting services.
Huffman’s opposition to Proposition 23, aimed at imposing new rules on kidney dialysis companies, netted her company $85,000. The proposition was rejected by voters.
AC Public Affairs earned $740,000 from the campaign opposed to Proposition 15. Ultimately rejected by voters, Prop 15 would have raised business property taxes to increase funding for schools and local services, The L.A. Times reported.
Landlord groups and other opponents of Proposition 21 paid Huffman’s company $620,000 to help fight a rent-control measure which also fell short during the election.
Huffman said she’s done nothing wrong. She said she only works with campaigns that the state’s NAACP has endorsed and that “her critics are often Democrats who feel she has stepped out of line,” the L.A. Times reported.
“Huffman’s dual roles as both a paid campaign consultant and leader of a vaunted civil rights group amount to an unusual — but legal — arrangement,” Cal Matters reported.
Huffman’s small firm was paid by five ballot-measure campaigns in 2020, public records show — more than it has taken in previous elections. Many of them are funded by corporate interests at war with labor unions, Cal Matters reported.
While business deals such as this may be legal and common for political campaigns that hire strategists, it is unusual for consultants to be associated with “a brand as well-known as the NAACP is for its work fighting discrimination over the last century,” Cal Matters reported.
Critics said the state NAACP’s inner workings lack transparency.
Darrell Goode, president of the NAACP’s Santa Monica-Venice Branch, complained he’s been unable to get meeting minutes indicating how the state’s executive board has voted on ballot measures. Goode said he sent a request to the national NAACP requesting an investigation into Huffman and other members of the state NAACP board, alleging a “lack of transparency and an apparent conflict of interest.”
Goode said in the letter that an investigation is needed to “restore our tarnished image.” Huffman is on the board of the national NAACP.
“We have brought up these issues before,” Goode told The L.A. Times. “We have been telling people not to be silent, and we aren’t being silent either. It’s more egregious this time because there were so many propositions key to communities. We need to stand for what’s right.”
Goode isn’t the only one complaining. In November, the state’s political watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), received an anonymous letter questioning whether there was a conflict of interest regarding Huffman and her company’s involvement with the propositions.
“I am quite concerned that, in trading on her NAACP leadership, these ads are misleading minority voters to support positions that may not be aligned with their political interests,” the complaint read.
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The Fair Political Practices Commission said the complaint is under review.
Huffman denied all allegations of conflicts of interest, saying “everything I did was legal.”
California state’s NAACP has been in trouble in the past. In 2016, the FPPC fined it for failing to disclose $67,000 spent on lobbying efforts.