Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Civil rights groups should have refused Sterling's money

By Carol Costello
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carol Costello: Donald Sterling made charitable gifts to civil rights groups
  • She says he had history of housing discrimination, but organizations took his money
  • Some say they will keep the money while local NAACP says it will return it, she says
  • Costello: Is it a betrayal for these groups to take his money?

Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Who knew bigotry could bring in big dollars?

Hey Donald Sterling, we know you refused to rent your apartments to blacks and Hispanics, but can you spare some change to help us fight for civil rights?

That's essentially what transpired in Los Angeles between Sterling and the local chapter of the NAACP. Surely the organization knew Sterling was the subject of a Justice Department investigation into discriminatory housing practices. And surely it knew Sterling agreed to pay one of the biggest fines of its kind in history.

Carol Costello
Carol Costello

It wasn't enough for the Los Angeles NAACP to shun Sterling. On the contrary, the NAACP awarded Sterling a lifetime achievement award. That was in 2009, just before the Donald T. Sterling organization gave the NAACP $5,000.

"The NAACP airbrushed this away and simply said that Sterling has been a gem in giving oodles of tickets away to needy inner city kids and ladling out some cash to charities and sports camps for them," wrote Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Thehutchinsonreportnews.com. He's a sociologist who has written nine books on African-American politics, following the 2009 award.

But, that was then. Except it's not. The local chapter of the NAACP was about to grant Sterling another lifetime achievement award until that pesky racist rant became public in the past few days. The rant where he berates his biracial girlfriend for posting an Instagram of herself with Magic Johnson, now a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. "In your lousy f----g Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself with -- walking with black people," he says.

Now the group is returning Sterling's money. He also won't be gracing the stage alongside another of their winners, "Person of the Year," the Rev. Al Sharpton. Today Sharpton asked the NBA to meet with civil rights organizations, including the national NAACP, about his former co-honoree.

As for whether the LA chapter will do business again with Sterling? President Leon Jenkins says yes. "At some point when there has been proof, I think that would be a legitimate time for the NAACP to sit down with Sterling and try to work out how and why he did what he did and what is he going to do in the future. God teaches us to forgive. And the way I look at it, after a sustained period of just proof to the African-American community that those words don't really reflect his heart, I think there's room for forgiveness."

Isiah Thomas on forcing Sterling out
What will racist rant cost Sterling?

Jenkins' remarks struck a nerve. "That dude needs to be fired." CNN contributor and ESPN Senior Writer LZ Granderson, a guest on my show, did not stop there. "He sounds like a fool. I'm just going to come to you straight up. To even suggest that somehow a sit-down with Donald Sterling now, when if anyone should have known about his racist past, (it) should have been a local chapter of the NAACP. First lawsuit was 2003. To pretend they'll sit down with him now and see if that's really in his heart when he's been sued by the Department of Justice, that man needs to resign or be fired."

Before you jump on Granderson's bandwagon, it's worth noting that at least Jenkins returned Sterling's donation.

Consider what's happening with the other contributions from the Donald T. Sterling Charitable Foundation of Beverly Hills. He donated $50,000 each to the LA Black Business Association and the United Negro College Fund. Anthony Owens, from UNCF, said the organization did not plan to return the money, which has already been passed along in the form of student scholarships.

He also gave $30,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which teaches about the Holocaust and seeks to enlighten visitors about all forms of discrimination.

Keep in mind that on that now infamous tape, Sterling is also alleged to have said, "There are white Jews and black Jews." He then goes on to infer black Jews are "less than" white Jews.

Still, the Simon Wiesenthal Center will not be giving back that $30,000. "The funds were used to combat racism and teach tolerance. We aren't going to return money of his that was used to do the very opposite of what he said on that tape." said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. He said his organization didn't know about the housing discrimination allegations when it received the money. He said his staff is not large enough to do that kind of research. (A Google search would have done the trick).

Oh, there's more. It seems Donald Sterling was a giving machine, despite his remarks showing disdain for African-Americans and black Jews.

In an article in the Beverly Hills Times, his foundation boasts of giving $5 million in grants and scholarship money at a fancy party at Spago. That's twice the fine he is to pay the NBA.

Thirty charities and eight high schools got checks at his gala after hearing a benediction from Rabbi David Baron and songs from Debbie Boone, of "You Light Up My Life" fame. Recipients included a smorgasbord of diverse organizations like 100 Black men, Nuevo Amanecer, Para Los Ninos, the Special Olympics, Yeshiva Gedolah and Junior Blind of America. Tuesday those organizations told CNN they were asking themselves what his intentions were, but none had resolved the issue of whether to return the money. (An organization not involved in that event, UCLA said in a statement Tuesday that it was rejecting a $3 million pledge from Sterling.)

Para Los Ninos, which works to get a better education for impoverished children, said it didn't want his money any more. "We have asked them to take our pictures off their full-page ad. We will not be accepting their money, or any more money going forward from the Donald T. Sterling Foundation," said Celeste Anlauf, director of major gifts and communications. "We were among a number of organizations that got money from him and up until this moment we had not had an organizational conversation about his ethics. We knew there were some questions but we had every hope that he had the best of intentions."

Perhaps Sterling did have "the best of intentions." But, "hoping" doesn't cut it. I certainly understand how difficult it is to raise money, but is selling your soul worth it?

Apparently the NAACP thinks so. Derek Turner, the spokesperson for the national NAACP, notes that Strom Thurmond, the onetime pro-segregationist senator, was a member of the NAACP. "I'm sure they try to buy favor by supporting the NAACP. Strom Thurmond was a member of the NAACP. We certainly didn't go easy on Strom Thurmond and any of the politicians who support us."

But in the Sterling case -- it did. CNN Political Analyst and HuffPost Live Host Marc Lamont Hill put it best: "You know what it is? We like sexy forms of racism. Someone is on the phone talking to their girlfriend about not letting black people at the game. Denying black people housing is far more damaging than the phone call he made."

I could not agree more.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT