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GOP Says It's Filed Trademark For Black History Month Event Amid Dispute

The RNC is fighting with a political consultant over the trademark of a high-profile Black History Month luncheon. The event began as a way to unify black Republicans after a shellacking at the polls in 2012, but now it's dividing the black Republican elite.

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WASHINGTON — The Republican National Committee has filed an application to trademark “Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an RNC spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

The move comes just days after Raynard Jackson, a black Republican operative based in Washington, filed an application to register the same trademark. In the filing, Jackson said the event would provide “recognition and incentives by the way of awards to demonstrate excellence in the field of politics, business, education, international relations, philanthropy, entertainment, sports, academia, and government.”

The RNC and Jackson were once partners on the annual Black History Month event, one of the RNC’s most prominent black outreach efforts. Last year, the RNC honored South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, as well as Reps. Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas.

But the relationship soured, and now both sides want control of the name. The RNC footed the bills for the events, but Jackson said he organized them and filled the seats.

“Me having a role was like saying Michael Jackson had a role in Thriller,” Jackson said in an interview with BuzzFeed News.

The ensuing trademark fight has reignited tensions over the direction of the party’s 2016 black outreach efforts and split the allegiances of the black Republican elite in Washington. The RNC and Jackson are now holding separate events.

Jackson’s Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon will held at Washington’s Willard Intercontinental on Sunday, Feb. 14.

“Many of you are aware that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has infringed on my trademark for my Trailblazer event,” Jackson, said in an email to invitees and the press. “We are in the process of pursuing very aggressive legal counsel to explore all possible actions to protect our interests in my historic event. Once I get guidance from counsel, we will determine what course of action we should pursue.”

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the RNC defended its legal right to file for the trademark, but made no mention of Jackson.

"The Republican National Committee owns a variety of trademarks, including GOP and the Official Republican Elephant Logo,” the RNC said. “We filed an application to register the trademark 'Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon' with the USPTO to take advantage of the trademark enforcement rights available under federal law."

Meanwhile, the RNC has moved its luncheon to Thursday, at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona, Fla., citing the political advantage of conducting outreach in battleground states. It will host another event in Ohio, an RNC aide told BuzzFeed News.

"We made a commitment to engage voters in their communities," the aide said. "We thought hosting our 4th Annual Black Republican Trailblazer Awards Luncheon on the campus of a Historically Black University during Black History Month was only fitting. The presidential election won’t be decided in Washington, D.C., but rather battleground states that we are determined to win."

Jackson said he first approached RNC Chair Reince Priebus about black outreach efforts after Barack Obama landslide 2012 victory over Mitt Romney with black voters. The RNC, which footed the bill for the inaugural event at the tony Capitol Hill Club, confirmed Jackson had a role in the event’s planning.

"I created the event, organized and executed the event. Ninety-nine percent of the people who attended were friends of mine,” Jackson said. “RNC paid for the cost and that’s why they’re claiming they had ownership. But I did everything in less than 30 days."

By the 2014 event, held at the Howard Theatre in Washington, Jackson said RNC staff shut him out.

By last year's event, hosted by Roland Martin, Jackson said he'd grown disillusioned with the RNC and did not attend. Jackson said it angered him that the party would secure Martin, a popular anchor and host on TV One, while many of the black Republicans he spoke to hadn't had contact with the RNC in years.

Jackson said his political action committee, Black Americans for a Better Future, will work to bring entrepreneurs and seasoned Republicans who were White House aides under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush back into the fold.

Bloomberg Politics reported hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, co-president/co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies LLC, sent Jackson’s PAC a total of $400,000 last fall. The windfall raised eyebrows in Republican circles concerning what the PAC is going to do with the money. At least some of that money will be spent this month at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.

Jackson's co-chairs include Mercer, Jack Brewer of The Brewer Group and James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party. His event with honor former Ambassador Harold E. Doley, Jr.; former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll; and Fred McClure, CEO of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.

In Florida, on the campus of Bethune-Cookman, the RNC will honor former Housing and Urban Development secretary Alphonso Jackson.

Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Darren Sands at darren.sands@buzzfeed.com.

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