California NAACP leader resigns amid conflict-of-interest backlash

Political consultant Alice Huffman has resigned as president of the California NAACP after a turbulent election season in which several Black leaders criticized her for endorsing ballot measures they saw as bad for African-American communities - while she was paid $1.7 million to work on the proposition campaigns.

Huffman, who has led the California-Hawaii chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 20 years, sent a letter to the organization's executive committee on Nov. 12, saying she will step down for health reasons on Dec. 1.

She issued a similar press release and did not respond to CalMatters' requests for comment.

"With the victory at the top of the ticket securing the election of President-Elect Joe Biden, Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, as well as securing the reelection of our African American leaders in the California State Legislature, I can say 'mission accomplished' and now take a well-deserved rest," Huffman's statement says.

Her resignation from the historic civil rights group follows an unusually busy election season for Huffman, who was paid a total of $1.7 million by five corporate-backed campaigns that framed their positions with messages of racial justice, as CalMatters reported in September.

It brings her payments by ballot measure campaigns beyond $4 million over the last two decades.

This year, campaigns funded by commercial landlords, ride-hailing apps, dialysis companies and bail bonds businesses paid Huffman while touting her NAACP affiliation in their ads.

She was especially prominent in commercials against Proposition 15, which sought to raise commercial property taxes to increase funding for schools, and against Proposition 25, which would have eliminated the use of cash bail.

"Over the years, Alice basically went against everything that was in the best interest of Black people. And she used the NAACP to do that," said Taisha Brown, chair of the California Democratic Party's Black caucus. "To use a historically Black organization that is meant for the betterment of Black people was just appalling."

Some local NAACP branches found themselves campaigning against the leadership of their statewide organization this fall. Darrell Goode, president of the NAACP's Santa Monica-Venice branch, asked voters not to heed the California NAACP's endorsements.

"They do not represent the interests of people of color within our state," he wrote in an October press release that cited CalMatters' report detailing Huffman's paid campaign work.

"It made a conflict in the community," Goode said. "People see 'NAACP' and they think it can't be that bad. We believe it's cost us a lot."

All the campaigns that Huffman worked on this fall were successful, to the frustration of many social justice advocates who supported failed efforts to expand rent control (Prop. 21), pump more tax dollars into schools and local governments (Prop. 15), and uphold California's ban on cash bail (Prop. 25).

In one especially stark contrast, Huffman was paid $200,000 by the campaign that successfully overturned California's ban on cash bail - while the national NAACP issued a statement saying it "has urged each state and municipality to reject monetary bail requirements."

The No on Prop. 25 campaign drew support from some progressive groups that criticized the plan for replacing money bail. But it was funded largely by the bail bonds industry, which stood to lose enormous business in California if the measure passed.

An industry leader said Huffman was critically helpful to the bail bondsmen. "It would have been difficult to win without the help of the NAACP," Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said in an interview earlier this month. "If the NAACP says no, it's a powerful message."

Rob Lapsely, president of the Business Roundtable that led the campaign against Prop. 15 - which paid Huffman $740,000 - also praised her work on the effort to fight the so-called "split roll" property tax measure. "It was a key part of our success," he said the day after the election. Brown, the Black caucus chair, and Goode, the Santa Monica-Venice NAACP president, said they've asked the national NAACP to look into Huffman's potential conflicts of interest but have not received a response.

That's not going to stop with her resignation, Goode said. "We are still going to press national to do an investigation," he said.

"In the future we need things to be transparent so we are not perceived as being owned by corporations." And, Goode said, he wants "to make sure the NAACP image is not impugned."