Charities Reconsidering Ties With Jackson

Michael Jackson (search) has donated to so many charities that the Guinness Book of World Records (search) in 2000 listed him as the world record holder for "most charities supported by a pop star."

Now, as the singer faces new allegations of child molestation, charities, schools and even cities that benefited or hoped to benefit from his largesse are reconsidering their affiliation with the "King of Pop."

Others say they will distance themselves only if Jackson is convicted of a crime.

Despite concerns by sponsors and other groups, the allegations shouldn't hurt Jackson's popularity if he escapes prosecution or is acquitted once charges are brought, said Mary Hall Ross, president and founder of The Ross Group in Santa Monica, which specializes in celebrity endorsements.

That is particularly true with companies that market clothing and music products, she said.

"I think it's a small hiccup in the long, evolving life of Michael Jackson," she said. "Michael's an icon and will always be an icon."

Jackson surrendered to Santa Barbara County authorities Nov. 20 after an arrest warrant alleged he committed lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. He was released on $3 million bail, and authorities said they expect to file formal charges the week of Dec. 15.

Jackson's attorney, Mark Geragos, has said the allegations are untrue and motivated by money.

Still, at a Hollywood elementary school that Jackson attended for three months in 1969, shortly after the Jackson Five's first single, "I Want You Back," soared to the top of the charts, workers recently put up plywood to cover the first two words on the "Michael Jackson Auditorium."

Gardner Street Elementary School made the decision after parents raised concerns at a meeting last week, said Olga Quinones, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She said parents were concerned the auditorium's name would bring the school "unwarranted attention."

Jackson donated money for the auditorium and attended its dedication in 1989.

A high school marching band from Bloomington, Ind., decided to drop Jackson's hit "Thriller" from its Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade play list. Band director Thomas Wilson told The New York Times "Thriller" would not be appropriate for the "morals and ideals" the parade represents.

Another group, the International Child Art Foundation, removed a link to an organization called Music for Giving from its Web site, said Michael Shetzer, director of corporate relations. According to the site, charities receive a portion of profits from every Jackson song downloaded there. Officials at Music for Giving did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

Other groups have been more forgiving.

In Gary, Ind., where Jackson lived until age 11, city officials are considering putting Jackson's name on a new performing arts center.

The center remains in the planning stages, but Mayor Scott L. King met with Jackson last June when he visited to discuss a donation from the singer, said LaLosa Burns, spokeswoman for the mayor and city.

"Until there's some proof in the pudding, we will continue to remain neutral," she said. "Certainly it would be a good partnership. He's a good fit for a performing arts center because of his entertainment status."

Japanese clothing maker Wakita Co., which is scheduled to roll out an "MJ" line of business suits next spring, has the same wait-and-see attitude. Wakita will move forward with its plans, but "if he is convicted, it will not be good for our image and we will have to reconsider," Wakita Co. spokesman Junichi Ota said.

Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, which promotes racial, social and economic justice, repeatedly defended the pop star in the days following the arrest warrant.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Jackson criticized Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon for joking and laughing with reporters during a news conference the week Jackson's Neverland estate was searched.

Coalition spokeswoman Keiana Barrett would not confirm if the organization received funding from Michael Jackson. She said only that the singer had worked closely with Rainbow/PUSH on numerous occasions.

"We stand steadfast in our position, which is he is innocent until proven guilty," Barrett said.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation (search), which held a fund-raiser at Neverland in September, said in a statement that it "would not speculate on future activities involving Mr. Jackson or Neverland while the legal proceedings are taking place."

Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses and has arranged for 13 children to visit Neverland since 1995, spokesman James Maggio said.

The owner of a West Hollywood comedy club said he arranged the meeting between Jackson and his accuser after the child attended a comedy camp for ill children and expressed an interest in meeting the pop star.

In a recent documentary, Jackson said he was worth more than $1 billion. His assets include the 2,600-acre Santa Barbara County Neverland Ranch, homes in Las Vegas and Encino, Calif., and other properties. His stake in Sony/ATV, which includes Beatles catalogs, is estimated by Forbes to be worth at least $350 million.