Georgetown Partners is no stranger to seeing opportunity is mergers. Chester Davenport, the founder of Georgetown Partners has used the merger arena in the past to garner a profitable position. The tact taken is under the promise of diversity, and while the cause may indeed be noble, some may feel that the activities are nothing short of diversification by extortion. While that statement may seem strong, activities of Davenport’s Georgetown Partners are well publicized and involve some well known names.
In a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the National Legacy and Policy Center outlined several instances where Jessee Jackson was a central figure in various activities, some of which involved Davenport of Georgetown Partners. The filing includes a section dealing specifically with proposed mergers and acquisitions readers may be quite familiar with, including the CBS/Viacom deal:
The deal to sell Ameritech’s cellular business to Davenport and GTE was worth $3.3 billion. Davenport put up $60 million for a 7 percent share of the new company co-owned with GTE. Despite his smaller share, Davenport was named “chairman,” though a spokesman said he would have “no operational responsibility. None.”
Davenport, who had known Jackson about 10 years, had no experience in telecommunications. He formerly owned a company called Envirotest, which tested auto emissions for state governments. Jackson weighed in on Envirotest’s behalf with some elected officials, including former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker, according to news accounts. Davenport sold the company in 1998, helping to boost his net worth to close to $100 million.
Verizon (formerly GTE) representatives denied a New York Times story saying that GTE executives resented having to cut Davenport in on the deal. “Rainbow; PUSH introduced us to Chester Davenport,” Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Hennessey said. “But it’s ultimately our decision who we involve in our business.”
As CBS sought Federal Communications Commission permission to purchase Viacom, Jackson made loud noises about the snag the deal was headed for because federal law prohibits one company from owning two networks, and Viacom’s UPN is considered a network. The rules also prohibit one company from serving more than 35 percent of the U.S. population. CBS and UPN would reach about 41 percent of the nation.
Jackson’s prescription for relief was simple: CBS should sell UPN — which aims much of its programming at African-American viewers — to a minority owner. Jackson met with CBS’ Karmazin to make his pitch and he brought along Davenport, Sutton and Spanish Broadcasting Systems Vice President Joe Garcia as examples of minority businessmen who could buy UPN. A week later, Jackson made the same pitch to then-FCC Chairman William Kennard.
Kennard has spoken at Jackson’s Wall Street conferences and has backed Jackson’s arguments that the FCC should consider the impact on minority customers and businesses in deciding whether to approve mergers. Kennard’s critics have said that the former chairman, who left office in January, helped Jackson’s strategy of holding companies’ feet to the fire.
A year ago, Jackson led a delegation of African-American businessmen, including Sutton and Jackson’s son Jonathan, on a trip to three African countries to promote telecommunications partnerships. Rainbow-PUSH passed out brochures introducing Jackson’s friend Sutton as an owner of radio stations interested in starting cellular telephone businesses in Africa. The brochures introduced Jonathan Jackson as the representative of Davenport’s company, Georgetown Partners.
Asked what his relationship to Georgetown Partners was, Jonathan would say only, “Look it up.” A receptionist at Georgetown offered to take a message for Jonathan, though Davenport later said Jackson did not work for him.
A Jackson family spokesman said late Friday that Jackson does not work for Georgetown and the PUSH brochure with Jonathan Jackson’s photo introducing him as Georgetown’s representative on the trip and listing the vital stats for Jackson and Georgetown must have been in error.
Sutton, a former Manhattan borough president, is a longtime friend of the Jackson family. Sutton’s Inner City Broadcasting owns radio stations in New York City and around the country, and he was finance chairman of Jackson’s 1988 run for president. At that time, Jackson said his wife’s shares in Inner City Broadcasting were worth more than $250,000. Sutton said the shares were worth $1 million.
Jackson has not disclosed his holdings since. As recently as 1996, the Suttons told the Associated Press that Mrs. Jackson owned the stock, and other stock owners said last week she still owns stock. The Rev. Jackson and Sutton declined to answer questions about how much the Jacksons stand to gain if Inner City lands UPN or if the company, as expected, goes public soon.
Inner City benefited after Jackson raised questions about the merger of Clear Channel Communications and AMFM Inc. Jackson said minorities should have a chance to buy the radio stations in major cities that would become available if the merger went through. Sutton’s Inner City bought nine of those stations.
In a filing with the FCC today, we can see the pressure and strategy of Georgetown Partners taking shape, as the Black Leadership Forum has stated that the merger should not happen unless 20% of the spectrum be made available to a minority held entity. They then go on to endorse the Georgetown partners proposal. The filing ironically lists the NAACP as part of the Black Leadership Forum, but the NAACP has already come out in support of the merger.
To be clear, this is not article is not about race for me. In point of fact, I value the opportunity for any person, no matter what their race, to be able to participate in business. I have no problem with anyone approaching Sirius or XM to negotiate about business. Where I take serious exception is when the negotiation comes through the back door and uses government agencies as pawns in a process. Throughout this I still come back to the most basic question of all. Why does it take an outside party to bring about diverse programming? Aren’t Sirius and XM already providing more programming diversity than many imagined possible only 10 years ago? Why can’t Sirius and XM themselves set aside a percentage of bandwidth for such programming? Why can’t Georgetown Partners or a similar company produce programming that can be sold to Sirius and XM? The answer is that it boils down to control and dollars. Imagine getting a golden ticket to 20% of the bandwidth of satellite radio! Who is to compete with a Georgetown Partners proposal? Why can’t a Google offer the exact same thing? Is this about a desire for diverse programming, or a desire for a golden ticket to grab a business? Will Jessee Jackson threaten a boycott?
In my opinion, Georgetown Partners is using the process to force negotiations with Sirius and XM. Whether or not they succeed in this is yet to be known, but investors need to be aware that the 20% stake that Georgetown Partners is seeking represents billions of dollars already spent, and billions in future revenue.
Again, this is not about race. With hundreds of channels available, I am all for even dozens of them catering to diverse programming. I am even for Sirius and XM buying content to air that is produced by minority owned companies. This is about business and shareholder interest being preserved.
Position – Long Sirius, XM