The Donald Sterling controversy had much of the right wing vibrating this weekend with the revelation that the purported arch-racist Sterling was (gasp!) a Democrat. This shed little light on the Sterling affair, other than to underscore the ancient truism that some public scandals are so explosive that for at least a period of time one can write or say anything one wishes about them without fear of contradiction.
Cue, for example, the National Review, whose headline read: “Racist Clippers Owner Donald Sterling Has Only Contributed to Democrats.”
Nice try, National Review. Here’s the truth: Sterling is a registered Republican and has been at least since 1998. As I divulged via Twitter on Sunday night, that information comes from the official database of California voter registrations. A readout of Sterling’s registration record is here, collated to the Clipper owner’s official residence in Beverly Hills and his documented birth date, April 26, 1934. (Yes, he turned 80 on Saturday.)
After I tweeted this fact on Sunday, scads of conservatives tweeted their doubts, pointing out that the voter database is not public, so why should they believe it? Actually, the registration database is public --you just have to know a lot about the subject to obtain his or her party registration.
So doubters are welcome to check the official Los Angeles county registrar’s website, here. Plug in Sterling’s name, house number (808), zip code (90210) and birth date from our readout (or track them down yourself) and have fun.
The notion that Sterling was a Democrat derives, it seems, from two factoids. One is that he’s donated to Democratic candidates in the past, as National Review observed. The problem there is that this happened well in the past, and covers exactly three candidates -- Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, former California Gov. Gray Davis and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, the latter a former basketball star.
The most recent of these was a $5,000 donation to Davis in 2002. Prior to that you have to go back to the early 1990s and late 1980s, when Sterling’s total contributions were $6,000. The man is worth $1.9 billion -- as Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast observes, $11,000 in contributions hardly makes him a “Sheldon Adelson of the left."
The other factor in Sterling’s supposed elevation to the ranks of “liberal leftist Democrat of the first order” (the words belong to right-wing blogger Donald Douglas) was his scheduled lifetime achievement award from the Los Angeles NAACP. This award has, of course, now been withdrawn. But in any case, it’s not a certification of Sterling’s liberalism as much as an example of a charitable organization’s feeding a rich man’s vanity in the hope he’ll give it some money.
The real issue is why any of this should matter. The history of accusations of racial bias by Sterling’s part is a long one, encompassing a lawsuit from former Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor and a Justice Dept. lawsuit in 2009 alleging a pattern of discrimination by Sterling and his wife, Rochelle, in apartments they owned around the Southland. The couple settled that case for a then-record $2.7 million.
Whether Sterling was a registered Democrat then or ever wouldn’t make his alleged behavior any less detestable. Nor do the current accusations against him say anything about the Republican Party; the test for the GOP and the Democrats, too, is how their elected officials respond to the presence of racism in our public life. Do they stand fast against it? Or do they waste their time pointing fingers at each other, as though to prove that the other side is whiter than white?