WASHINGTON -- The Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP accepted at least $45,000 in grants from charitable foundations closely associated with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in recent years. The majority of those contributions were made shortly before the chapter in 2009 presented a lifetime achievement award to Sterling, who is now under fire for racist remarks he allegedly made in an audio recording.
According to tax records accessed at CitizenAudit.org, the Los Angeles Clippers Foundation donated $20,000 to the Los Angeles NAACP in 2008 and again in 2009, and the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation gave $5,000 in 2010.
The NAACP chapter presented Sterling with that 2009 award and had planned on giving him another lifetime achievement award at the group's 100-year anniversary gala on May 15 of this year. On Sunday, however, the chapter announced that Sterling would not be receiving the award
On Monday, Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles NAACP, said that his organization would also give back the contributions. "It's an insignificant amount of money, and we're going to return it," Jenkins said at a press conference. But he refused to detail which contributions or how much money he would return.
Since 2007, Sterling's foundations have spread small sums of money around to multiple nonprofits supporting the African-American and Latino communities as well as a number of education, health care, homeless, and Jewish and Israeli groups. These contributions have been criticized in the past as an attempt to direct attention away from Sterling's long history of being accused of racial discrimination. He has certainly highlighted this charitable activity in large (and noticeably poorly designed) ads in the Los Angeles Times.
Yet groups continued to accept his money and honor him with awards.
Sterling received a Humanitarian of the Year award in 2008 from the Black Business Association, which has received $50,000 from his foundations.
Among other donations aimed at minority communities, his foundations have given $40,000 to Para Los Ninos, $55,000 to the United Negro College Fund and $5,000 to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They have also donated $30,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance, $75,000 to Yeshiva Gedolah and $25,000 to American Friends of Migdal Ohr. And they have contributed $68,000 to the Special Olympics of Southern California, $40,000 to Step Up on Second and $40,000 to Union Rescue Mission.
Few groups that received funds from Sterling's charitable foundations responded to requests for comment. Those that did denounced the racist remarks now stirring up outrage or stated that they were waiting for the National Basketball Association's review of the audiotape.
"The Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance are shocked by racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling. We urge him to apologize," rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, the founder and dean and the associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a joint statement. "There is no place in America for such bigoted comments. If these remarks are authenticated by the ongoing NBA investigation, then we will fully support any action taken by the Commissioner."
Tod Lipka, president and CEO of Step Up on Second, said he would not comment at this point. "Certainly we're not going to pre-empt the NBA," Lipka said. "We're all just kind of waiting to see what goes on. Other than that, we're not taking any stand on it for right now."
Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, said the group will not be returning the Sterling donations. "We wouldn't want to rob him of the good that he has done in the past," Bales told HuffPost. "I wouldn't want to return gifts he made in the past when he's done the right thing by being generous."
Bales added that it's the nature of fundraising to take money from "imperfect people."
"I feel bad about the situation," he said, "and really hurt by his words. If anybody who has known Don Sterling, he is unpredictable. He has been for many years."
Bales said he has met Sterling on many occasions and described him as "erratic" and "eccentric." He said that Sterling's racist history was well known. "That's why I was a bit surprised that the NAACP was going to give him an honor," he said.
The audiotape at the heart of the current controversy allegedly captured Sterling telling his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, that he disapproved of her bringing black people to basketball games and of posting pictures of herself with black people. The pictures that spurred Sterling's anger showed Stiviano posing with former Los Angeles Lakers superstar and businessman Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp.
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people," a man who has been named as Sterling is heard saying in the audio recording first obtained by TMZ. "Do you have to?"
He goes on, "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games."
An extended audio recording of the same conversation, released by Deadspin on Sunday, shows Sterling defending his views by comparing them to discrimination in Israel against Jews of Middle Eastern and African descent.
"It's the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs," Sterling said, adding, "The white Jews, there's white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?"
Sterling has disputed the authenticity of the audio recording. A statement from the Clippers organization declared that what is said on the tape is "not consistent with, nor does it reflect his views, beliefs or feelings. It is the antithesis of who he is, what he believes and how he has lived his life."
But allegations of racism have dogged Sterling for years. He has paid multimillion-dollar settlements over lawsuits accusing him of discriminatory housing policies in his real estate holdings. Documents and interviews related to those cases claimed that Sterling refused to rent to blacks ("they smell"), Latinos ("all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day") and families with children ("brats").
Former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, a Hall of Fame player, also filed suit against Sterling in 2009 alleging wrongful termination and discrimination. Baylor made a series of accusations relating to Sterling's allegedly racist reasoning: He contended that Sterling told him, "Personally I would like to have a White southern coach coaching poor Black players." In contract negotiations with Danny Manning, Baylor claimed that Sterling did not want to pay what the Clippers star was asking for and said, "I'm offering a lot of money for a poor black kid." Baylor further alleged that Sterling would bring women into the Clippers locker room, point to the players in the shower, and say, "Look at those beautiful black bodies." A jury ruled against Baylor in 2011.
As Sterling attempts to defend himself against the latest accusations, his contributions to various charities will likely be brought up. It's worth noting that either some of the claims he has made in ads to promote his charitable giving are inflated or the tax records filed do not show the full extent of Sterling's gifts.
A 2010 ad placed in the Beverly Hills Courier, for example, claimed that the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation would distribute $2 million in grants to groups at its annual summit. A follow-up article about the summit stated that the foundation gave out $5 million in grants.
Tax records, however, show that the Sterling foundation has distributed just $1,358,000 from 2007 through 2012 and that the Clippers foundation has given $972,156.
Stiviano, who in the tape describes herself as "black and Mexican," was also identified as a director of the Sterling foundation in a 2011 ad. But tax records do not list her as a director at any point.