ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Well, now we know Donald Sterling's fate with the National Basketball Association and that his $2.5 million fine will be donated to organizations that fight discrimination. But there is another group that has to deal with its relationship with Sterling. The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, has accepted contributions from Sterling for years.
NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates, who reports for our Code Switch team, takes a look.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: After Donald Sterling's remarks became public over the weekend, tremendous pressure was put on the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP to disassociate itself from him. In a hastilycalled press conference yesterday morning, Los Angeles Chapter President Leon Jenkins said this.
LEON JENKINS: The Los Angeles NAACP's intention to honor Mr. Sterling for a lifetime body of work must be withdrawn, and the donation that he's given to Los Angeles NAACP will be returned.
BATES: Professor Peter Dreier, of Occidental College, wrote a long post in Talking Points Memo, a liberal political website, probing the NAACP's relationship with Donald Sterling. The real estate magnate has been sued multiple times over the years for residential discrimination and tenant abuse against blacks and Latinos. In 2009, he settled the largest residential rental lawsuit ever brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Now, Dreier says, the NAACP and other nonprofits are going to have to do some hard self-examination.
PETER DREIER: The real question is not do we know about Donald Sterling's long track record of racism, but how do the groups that get his charity deal with it?
BATES: Dreier believes there are usually strings attached to Sterling's gifts: the implicit understanding that he'll receive an award, or a prominent photo in the organization's annual report. It's philanthropy that could shield Sterling from charges of racism should they arise.
Monetary contributions as a public relations tactic is nothing new, Peter Dreier points out. Business titans from John D. Rockefeller to junk bond king Michael Milken have established philanthropies that do worthy work, and that help soften bitter memories of early business practices.
Dreier admits that some gifts do come without strings but says going forward, nonprofits like the NAACP need to consider what's at stake when they accept any contribution.
DREIER: The two questions are, who are you dealing with, and what do they want from you?
BATES: And, says Callie Crossley, if what they want is radically different from what you stand for, that should tell you something. Crossley, a Boston journalist who hosts "Under The Radar" at member station WGBH, says she is just gobsmacked that the NAACP would even consider taking money from Donald Sterling, given its mission and his documented record of discrimination.
CALLIE CROSSLEY: This is just the polar opposite of what the organization stand for. It's sort of like vegetarians saying, listen, we're going to take the money from the meat suppliers.
BATES: Los Angeles NAACP President Leon Jenkins says in hard times, hard decisions have to be made. He told reporters at yesterday's news conference his chapter had approached several local sports franchises, and only Donald Sterling came through with offers to invite low-income kids to see a professional ball game on his dime.
JENKINS: Almost every game, there is a section where there are young people there.
CROSSLEY: Let's just add that up and ask the question, was the total amount of the tickets given, even over a number of years, worth selling your integrity around your core issue?
BATES: It doesn't help, Crossley says, that the NAACP has made other questionable awards in the not-too-distant past, notably with its Image Awards. The Awards are designed to praise achievements by people of color in the arts. Past recipients include Sidney Poitier and Quincy Jones. More recent ones were singer R. Kelly, long known for his sexual interest in underaged girls, and rapper Chris Brown, who made headlines when he assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2011.
Both Callie Crossley and Peter Dreier say that sketchy associations like this have dimmed the NAACP's luster, and taken the emphasis away from the organization's century-long history of fighting discrimination - a fight that may have to be funded differently in the future. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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