Jesse Jackson, whose own financial practices are being called into question, is offering financial advice to black churchgoers — for a fee.

So far, Jackson’s so-called Finance Ministry, run by his nonprofit Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, has signed up about 100 black churches across the country, charging them $1,000 each, WorldNetDaily has learned.

His goal is to recruit 1,000 churches, raising $1 million.

A spokeswoman says the fee pays for the cost of the program’s curriculum, which offers members advice about debt elimination, credit restoration, mortgage financing and stock and bond investing.

“The fee is a donation made by member churches to help defray the infrastructure cost of the initiative, and the cost of education materials, seminars and other outreach efforts to members and prospective members,” said Chee Chee Williams, director of Jackson’s Wall Street Project, which operates out of Rainbow/PUSH’s New York office.

As yet, none of the education materials have materialized.

“They haven’t rolled out anything yet,” said Bonita Parker, director of investments and economic empowerment at member Salem Baptist Church.

In fact, the Chicago church, which was the first to join Jackson’s Finance Ministry, is working with Rainbow/PUSH to create its education “modules.”

“We were basically ahead of them in some of these areas,” Parker said.

Some curricula packets are expected to be completed by March or April for use by pilot churches only, she says. They won’t be available to all member churches until July.

In the meantime, Parker says Rainbow/PUSH has sent the other 100 or so member churches video and audio tapes of sermons on personal finance by Salem Baptist Rev.
James T. Meeks, who also serves as executive vice president of Rainbow/PUSH.

“RPC (Rainbow/PUSH Coalition) has purchased that (the tapes) from us,” Parker said.

Parker says RPC has, however, furnished her with information to help her coordinate with the Illinois Council on Economic Education and the National Endowment for Financial Education to start various financial-management programs at the church.

Williams would not name the other member churches, saying she hasn’t “secured permission to release their names to the media.” The black churches are mostly
congregations of 1,000 or more in major urban areas, she allowed.

One black church in Atlanta decided not to join Jackson’s Finance Ministry, even after attending a November session hosted by RPC in Atlanta familiarizing black ministers with how the program works.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of the 1,200-member First Iconium Baptist Church in East Atlanta, says the $1,000 fee is too high.

“It’s going to be hard to get 1,000 churches to put up $1,000 apiece,” he said.

“If it was to purchase a mutual fund or stock, that’s one thing,” McDonald said. “But if it just goes to administration and materials, that’s another.”

McDonald says he and his flock started an investment club on their own.

The $1,000 fee includes automatic membership in RPC — a $35 value.

But black churchgoers hoping to hear tips from certified financial planners or stock brokers who’ve passed their Series 7 exam may be out of luck. RPC does not send out such professionals to churches.

“Each minister is encouraged to identify professionals within their congregations” to train flocks, Williams said.

Parker says several of Salem Baptist’s congregants with financial backgrounds have volunteered to conduct seminars for church members.

They work for Merrill Lynch and Salomon Smith Barney, she says. An adviser with Oppenheimer Funds, who is not a member of the church, also has given talks.

For churches drawing from smaller pools of financial talent, Williams says help is on the way.

“We are currently in negotiations with a nationally respected nonprofit association to provide training for the trainers,” she said without naming the group.

Williams lists the Ministers on Wall Street Program as “another benefit of joining.”

The program is a three-day course on the stock market, taught by the New York Stock Exchange.

The Fourth Movement

Jackson launched the Finance Ministry — also called One Thousand Churches Connected — in 1999 as the “Fourth Movement of the Freedom Symphony – the mastery of the financial system under which we live,” according to a brochure on RPC’s website.

The stated goal is to teach blacks “economic literacy,” unshackling them from debt and teaching them to be more financially independent.

But Jackson’s own financial practices — namely, how he uses his tax-exempt charities’ funds — have recently come under fire.

  • Jackson’s Citizen Education Fund paid top Jackson aide, Karin Stanford, $36,181 to help her buy a $365,00 bungalow in the wealthy black Los Angeles neighborhood of Baldwin Hills, according to records obtained by the National Enquirer.

  • Stanford also was Jackson’s mistress with whom he fathered a child. He’s paying her $3,000 monthly of his own money in child support, aides say.

  • Also, donations to Jackson’s Citizen Education Fund shot up to a reported $9.7 million in 1999 from $2 million in 1998. Huge gifts came from telecommunications firms such as Ameritech, SBC, GTE and Bell Atlantic, which ostensibly needed Jackson’s political stamp of approval as they tried to navigate their multibillion-dollar mergers through federal regulatory channels, the New York Post has reported.

Jackson has criticized proposed mergers on racial grounds. And the FCC, which OK’d the phone deals, at the time was headed by William Kennard, an outspoken fan of “diversity.”

After publicly opposing the SBC-Ameritech merger in 1998, Jackson endorsed it a year later — following a closed-door meeting with SBC and Ameritech executives. The two firms gave Citizen Education Fund a combined $500,000.

Jackson also endorsed the 1999 merger of GTE and Bell Atlantic (now Verizon). GTE gave Jackson’s charity $625,000, and Bell Atlantic kicked in $375,000.

Political goals

Jackson’s Finance Ministry has political, as well as educational, aims.

It encourages black churches to establish “consumer clubs,” whereby members collectively buy from black businesses only.

It also urges them to “engage in targeted stock purchases.” By pooling Sunday collections, churches can make investments that “impact corporate policy, practice and the selection of board members,” the RPC website says.

To that end, RPC — through its Wall Street Project — itself is diving into the market.

“We’re now purchasing stock in 50 major corporations, most of which do not have a woman or a person of color on their boards,” Jackson told black leaders gathered
last June in Seattle.

He said the new “battleground will be in the shareholders’ meetings of Microsoft, Starbucks and Nintendo.”

Williams says shareholder activism has been a “key component” of the Wall Street Project since its founding in 1997.

She says shares of stock are purchased through nine regional Wall Street Project offices, which “collectively seek to promote inclusion and diversity in corporate America.”

“Each (office) hosts its own fund-raising events,” Williams explained. “A small portion of those monies is applied to purchasing minimal shares in each of the top 50 corporations headquartered in the states of each of our offices.”

She added that the stock positions taken by the nonprofit group “entitle representatives from each office to legally attend shareholder meetings and submit inquiries to the boards of directors and top officers concerning issues such as recruitment and retention of women and minority employees, procurement and board membership.”

Williams declined to say how much the Wall Street Project has invested.

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