WASHINGTON — Michael Jackson, who's awaiting trial in California on nine counts of lewd acts with a child and administering an intoxicant to a minor to facilitate abuse, is a great humanitarian in the eyes of the African Ambassadors' Spouses Association.
They feted the singer at a closed reception late Thursday night at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington. Diplomats, some U.S. lawmakers and some HIV/AIDS Africa activists attended.
"He deserves to be partying," said Pete Carter, 19, of Toms River, N.J., a dance instructor and Jackson impersonator who stood outside the embassy in spring rain. "No one has anything on him yet."
The African ambassadors' spouses group, a fixture of the capital's diplo-social whirl, has been around for more than 40 years. The humanitarian award was created for Jackson, however. Representatives of the spouses group referred questions about why to Jackson's spokeswoman, Raymone Bain.
Bain didn't return repeated phone calls and Jackson, on a three-day schmooze tour in Washington, has said precisely two words to the news media. "Photo shots," he cued camera operators in a congressional appearance Wednesday afternoon.
Bain said earlier that Jackson had contributed $50 million to his favored causes, including some African ones. HIV/AIDS in Africa is on his front burner now, according to his congressional host, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. If so, it hasn't been a big issue for Jackson until now, according to some long-term AIDS lobbyists.
"I was surprised when I read about it this morning," said Dr. Paul Zeitz, the executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group. He spent 10 years working in Africa.
"I never heard of any donations he made in Africa," Zeitz said.
Bain has said many of Jackson's contributions are made anonymously.
His best-known vehicle for donations, the Heal the World Foundation, was suspended in April 2002 in California, where it's chartered, for failing to file the annual statements required of charities. Several of his causes, including his Neverland Zoo and Heal L.A. project for inner-city children in Los Angeles, are defunct or inactive.
Jackson has had contact with the African diplomatic spouses before. In 2000, he donated one of his fedoras, which he'd autographed, and a limited-edition poster to the group's annual charity auction.
Tiahmo Rauf, a former aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a Democratic presidential candidate this year, organized Jackson's visit to Washington and set up the liaison with African diplomats. Rauf is the executive director of Africans Unite Against AIDS Globally, a nonprofit group based in Clayton, Mo., that promotes AIDS awareness and education.
Rauf has drawn other celebrities into his cause, including World Boxing Association light-heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. Jones accompanied Rauf to Kenya in September to participate in a boxing exhibition billed as the "Ultimate Battle Against AIDS." Rauf, in a brief interview, said he'd like to organize an Africa tour for Jackson, too. That would need the OK of the Santa Barbara judge in the child abuse case, as Jackson needs permission to leave the jurisdiction. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Although Jackson met this week with several Congressional Black Caucus members who've been active in AIDS and Africa, others refused to meet with him.
"I think Michael Jackson pretty much invited himself," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the caucus chairman and among those who declined to meet Jackson, told CNBC's "Capitol Report" show.
"He wants to come and talk about AIDS, and I think that's fine. But ... we did not want the things that we (the Black Caucus) address every day to be shadowed by Michael Jackson."