Board diversity expands political spectrum

At Marriott International, Chairman Bill Marriott has not only contributed the maximum $4,600 to Republican John McCain's presidential campaign, he's also an active McCain "bundler," who has raised between $100,000 and $250,000 from others.

At the table at Marriott board meetings is director Debra Lee, chairwoman of BET Holdings, parent company of Black Entertainment Television. Lee not only has given the maximum to Democrat Barack Obama, but is a bundler for his camp and has raised nearly $100,000. The Marriott board is a conglomerate of political givers: four other directors to Obama and/or Hillary Clinton, three others to McCain and/or Mitt Romney.

For 20 years, large companies have recruited directors of color to their boards, and by doing so, they have installed into the corporate system an unforeseen byproduct: political diversity. Among the 200 largest Standard & Poor's 500 companies, 78% have at least one African-American director, says executive search firm Spencer Stuart. Executive search firm Korn/Ferry International says that 78% of Fortune 1000 companies have a director who is a minority, up from 47% in 1995.

And while Obama has substantial support among white business leaders, too, the outcome of efforts at Marriott and elsewhere to diversify the board has meant that at most quarterly meetings, staunch Obama supporters sit congenially, but eye to eye, with those staunchly supporting McCain.

There are strange political boardfellows at Commonwealth Edison, The Gap, General Electric, McDonald's, Time Warner and Wal-Mart, among others. Even Halliburton, where Dick Cheney was chairman before becoming George Bush's running mate eight years ago, has on its board two Obama contributors, including Milton Carroll, African-American chairman of CenterPoint Energy.

Dow Chemical Chairman Andrew Liveris, an Australian citizen who can't vote here, has contributed to McCain and Romney. Dow Chemical director James Bell, an African-American chief financial officer at Boeing, has contributed to Obama. At General Mills, white Chairman Kendall Powell is a McCain contributor. African-American director Dorothy Terrell, an accomplished technology executive, is an Obama bundler who has raised between $50,000 and $100,000.

Nationwide, about 90% of African Americans say they will vote for Obama, vs. 3% for McCain, according to the latest polling by Gallup. African-American directors appear almost as solid in their support, USA TODAY research finds. There are 191 African Americans on the boards of the largest 250 companies, according to Black Enterprise.

Using the Center for Responsive Politics Internet site OpenSecrets.org, USA TODAY was able to identify 99 of the 191 who contributed to at least one presidential candidate during this election cycle. Of those 99, 83% contributed to Obama, and 95% contributed to Obama or Clinton, or both.

Mary Bush, an African American and the newest member of the Marriott board, is a childhood friend of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was appointed by President Bush to chair a commission to reform foreign aid.

"I don't think she will be supporting Obama," Bill Marriott said without knowing that Mary Bush contributed to Obama first, then to McCain. Mary Bush declined comment.

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