‘We Don’t Get Our Fair Shake’: Rep. Johnson and CBC Call Out Biden on Unequal Federal Ad Spending Between Black and White-owned Companies

·4 min read

Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia 4th District called out the Biden administration demanding answers on how the federal government spends its advertising money toward Black communities.

On March 4, Johnson issued a tweet highlighting his March 2 letter to the White House where he criticizes the federal government’s COVID-19 advertising campaign targeting Black audiences.

He says in part, “unfortunately, the failure of the federal government to spend COVID-19 advertising dollars with Black-owned media and advertising firms is simply the continuation of a problem that has existed for years.”

Johnson’s letter specifically referenced a media report from last August that pointed to what it described as the Health & Human Services Department’s shortcomings in spending with Black-owned media for COVID-19 ads targeting Black audiences.

Johnson’s tweet also referenced a 2018 government report that illustrates the disparities between how overall federal advertising dollars are spent with Black-owned firms versus ones not owned by African-Americans.

The report first came to light when congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., requested a 2018 Government Accountability Office report on how the federal government spends its advertising dollars.

The report revealed that out of its billion-dollar annual spending budget, between 2013-2017, and Black-owned media received just $51 million dollars, or just 1 percent of the total $5 billion dollars spent during that time period.

“It’s not working” Johnson told Atlanta Black Star of the government’s way of issuing contracts for its advertising campaigns. “Our firms are not getting a piece of this money and the messaging is not being effective to our people and as a result of that our people are losing out and it could be a matter of life or death.”

“If the federal government wants to be as effective as it can in messaging to the Black community, it must enlist in Black advertising firms and Black-owned media to get the word out about certain things,” Johnson continued.

A spokeswoman from the White House told Atlanta Black Star the Biden administration is aware of the CBC’s concerns and has met with the Caucus regarding their concerns.
The White House pivoted to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to answer how federal money is spent and address Rep. Johnson’s concerns of advertising spending amid the pandemic.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for HHS Kamara Jones says since the Biden assumed office the Public Education Campaign’s actual and planned spend for paid media targeting Black audiences through April 30 is $65,636,648, of which $20,055,643 has been spent with Black-owned and operated companies.

Jones says this represents over 18 percent of the total paid media budget, with 5.8 percent directed toward Black-owned-and-operated media companies and 12.5 percent directed toward Black-targeted media companies.

She notes the distinction between the two is Black-targeted media companies, while not Black-owned, tend to have large Black audiences, including examples such as “The Breakfast Club” radio show, which is owned by Premiere Networks, a subsidiary of iHeart Media.

Jones says during the tail end of the Trump administration between Sept. 1, 2020, to January 19, 2021, $17 million was spent targeting Black audiences, and approximately $935,000 was spent with Black-owned and operated media companies. More information on HHS advertising can be found here.

However, the White House’s response doesn’t satisfy the congressman, who said in a statement to Atlanta Black Star: “I appreciate the Biden Administration’s prompt response to this serious matter. I know the Administration values Black-and-minority-owned businesses, and their goals are to uplift them. My original letter wasn’t just concerned with HHS but the whole of the federal government’s spending. And it was specifically requesting information about spending with Black-owned media, not media that targets Black audiences as well. I’m studying the letter and will issue a more detailed response.”

Johnson also asked for an audit of contracts funded by COVID-19 relief money and for President Biden to reinstate former President, Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 131170 which would provide for increased access for disadvantaged businesses to federal contracting opportunities, but neither were specifically addressed by the White House.