But Sharpton has not limited himself simply to supporting candidates considered by most to be inimical to the interests of the impoverished black community.
A 1988 investigation by the Long Island daily Newsday revealed that Sharpton, who denounces African-American leaders who disagree with him as "yellow niggers," had been a longtime FBI informant in a scheme to entrap black leaders and personalities on drug-related matters, even going so far as to wear a wire to record their conversations for the feds.
How did the FBI turn Sharpton into their bitch?
Why, they caught Rev. Al up to his hairdo in a drug-money Laundromat in which Don King, the much-indicted boxing promoter and a longtime pal of Sharpton's, was a central figure. What's more, the drug deal was an FBI sting -- and the feds had it all on videotape, too.
Just two years ago, Bryant Gumbel -- the second most popular black on television next to Oprah --aired on his HBO Real Sports show an FBI videotape of Sharpton discussing laundering money from a South American drug dealer via King with Michael "Sonny" Franzese, a former Colombo family captain.
Sharpton was going to arrange a meeting with King and the coke peddler to set up the deal. But the "South American" was an FBI agent, Franzese had already been turned by the feds into an informant and Sharpton fell right into their trap.
Sharpton became a sting artist for the feds when he was himself stung. After the tape aired, Sharpton announced he was going to sue HBO for a billion bucks. Nothing has been heard of the lawsuit since then.
Now, in his current presidential campaign, Sharpton has been revealed as a wholly owned Republican subsidiary. Sharpton has been used by Republican operatives to discredit real contenders for the Democratic nomination. And the more prominent a place on the Democratic stage Sharpton can command, all the way to Boston, the more the Republicans can use the wisecracking but polarizing preacher-without-a-church as a bogeyman to frighten moderate voters away from the Democratic ticket.
That's the story behind the blockbuster report in the February 5 Village Voice " the L.A. Weekly's sister paper in which veteran Voice investigative reporter Wayne Barrett and his team unveiled the malevolent forces keeping Sharpton's campaign alive: "Roger Stone, the longtime Republican dirty-tricks operative who led the mob that shut down the Miami-Dade County recount and helped make George Bush president in 2000, is financing, staffing, and orchestrating the presidential campaign of Rev. Al Sharpton."
Who is Roger Stone? A slash-and-burn Republican black-bag election tamperer and consultant whose mentor was the repulsive Roy Cohn -- the red-baiting hatchet man for Senator Joe McCarthy. Stone first made news in the Nixon Watergate scandal, when it was revealed that the 19-year-old apprentice McCarthyite had infiltrated George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign as part of CREEP's sabotage plan.
A few other highlights of Stone's career as the boastful black prince of Republican sleaze: Stone helped Ollie North raise money for the Nicaraguan contras, and was a close associate of the notorious Lee Atwater (the GOP hit man who created the race-baiting Willie Horton TV spots for Bush 1988 presidential campaign).
The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin in his excellent book, Too Close To Call, about the 2000 Florida election -- details how Stone was summoned by Bush recount chief James Baker to disrupt the vote counting (Stone and his Cuban wife, Nydia, organized a screaming mob of Miami Cubans outside the headquarters of the canvassing board -- Stone directed the mob by walkie-talkie from across the street -- and intimidated the board into ending the count).
On the stump, Rev. Al has frequently denounced the theft of the presidential election in Florida -- which depended in large measure on invalidating black votes.
For example, he told a Democratic National Committee meeting last October that "We are witnessing a nonmilitary civil war; it started with the recount in Florida." So, hopping into bed with Stone might strike many African-Americans as "ungodly" hypocrisy. But the tale gets worse.
When Sharpton launched a vicious attack on Howard Dean for his supposed "anti-black agenda," the man behind the curtain was Stone, who crowed to The New York Times that he "helped set the tone and direction" of the blast at Dean, while the research for it was provided by the man Stone had installed as Sharpton's campaign manager, Charles Halloran, one of a half-dozen top aides to Sharpton who worked for Stone in previous campaigns.
A member of Stone's stable who stays at Stone's Central Park South apartment in New York while working for Sharpton, Halloran -- just before taking over the Sharpton campaign -- had been managing the parliamentary campaign for one of Stone's numerous foreign clients: the United Bermuda Party, a white-led party trying to oust the resort island's first black government.
Since Rev. Al's presidential campaign is really all about trying to succeed Jesse Jackson as America's premier black political leader, the installation of Halloran is thus an odd choice indeed, one that can be explained only by Sharpton's dependence on the money funneled into his campaign by Stone. (Halloran's wife works for the infamous Carlyle Group, the military-industrial-complex giant of which Bush was a longtime officer.)
Stone has acknowledged that he "helped Sharpton" meet the 20-state, $5,000-contribution threshold required for federal matching funds. Example, according to The Voice: "In Florida, Stone's wife, Nydia; son Scott; daughter-in-law Laurie; mother-in-law Olga Bertran; Stone's executive assistant Dianne Thorne; Tim Suereth, who lives with Thorne; and Halloran's mother, all pushed Sharpton comfortably over the threshold, donating $250 apiece in December. Jeanmarie Ferrara, who works at a Miami public relations firm that joined Stone in the 90s fight on behalf of the sugar industry against a tax to resuscitate the Everglades, also gave $250, as did the wife of the firm's name partner . . . Another lobbyist, Eli Feinberg, a Republican giver appointed to a top position by the Republican state insurance commissioner, also gave $250."
Hired guns for ultraright evangelical GOP Florida Senate candidate Larry Klayman also kicked in to Rev. Al. Similar patterns of GOPers giving to Sharpton and phantom donors have been found in other states.
Sharpton's almost penniless campaign has been sustained only by money given or raised by Stone or by Stone-arranged credit with consultants -- without which the campaign would collapse. The Voice alleges that Stone loaned some $270,000 to Sharpton laundered through Rev. Al's National Action Network (NAN), and that Stone rang up $18,000 on his credit card for Sharpton's campaign-travel and other expenses.
In the wake of these revelations, the Federal Election Commission is about to consider whether the Sharpton campaign expenses picked up by NAN with the money provided by Stone, and other unpaid-for campaign services provided by Stone and his chums, constitute illegal campaign contributions, according to The New York Times.
The Stone revelations show that Rev. Al's presidential campaign is nothing more than another scam he's running on black Americans, one designed to undermine the movement to defeat George Bush. Fortunately, black voters aren't as gullible as the cynical Sharpton thinks they are == they know an unprincipled huckster when they see one.
Which is why Sharpton -- despite the help from his GOP bedmates on which his campaign depends -- has been rejected by significant majorities of African-Americans this year at the polls.
*** Doug Ireland is a New York-based media critic and commentator whose articles appear regularly in The Nation, Tom Paine.com, and In These Times among many others. This article first appeared in the LA