Is Michael Jackson's charity a fake?
Michael Jackson's Heal the World Foundation did a considerable amount of good in its heyday in the mid-1990s, but it suspended operations in 2002 after failing to file several years worth of required annual reports with the state of California. The charity's New York offshoot, Heal the Kids, also faced a similar crisis in 2003, after which time it seems to have disappeared.
Last year brought news that that Jackson had not really stopped supporting his charity. Instead, the Heal the World Foundation had been reorganized. According to HTWF's website,
People are now remembering his music legacy, but behind the scenes, unknown to all but a small handful of people, during these last 7 years he authorized that tens of thousands be spent on preserving his charity organization Heal the World Foundation (HTWF).
Jackson started HTWF in 1992 and was designed to leverage his name, adding to the many millions Michael Jackson had personally given to charity. With Michael Jackson not happy at turning 50 years old, he stepped up his efforts for a multifaceted comeback.
Following these final performances, it was believed that Mr. Jackson would live a long and full life, devoted to HTWF and serving his God and his fellow man, with his fans leading the way.
Instead, the Heal the World Foundation announced that it would host a memorial benefit at a property bordering Jackson's Neverland Ranch--an event that ended up being canceled when local authorities objected that the event lacked the requisite permits.
I don't want to get in the way of a good thing, and I certainly wish the organizers well with whatever good deeds they have planned for the future. However, the more I go over my files on this Foundation, the more I've begun to wonder whether the relaunched charity was connected to Jackson in any way besides the name.
That the memorial PR came from an event management company with no evident coordination with the Jackson estate raised a red flag for me, but that's not the only odd thing. There's also the array of Michael Jackson domain names associated with the Foundation's president, Melissa Johnson, and the charity itself. For example, while Michael has been known to inspire quasi-religious devotion among his fans, would he have authorized the use of the domain name prophetmichael.com?
Somewhat more troubling, the Foundation is named in the WHOIS listing for http://mjplay.com, but the link itself takes you to Johnson's personal home health care service. Even more curiously, the home health service lists HTWF as a partner in providing elder care assistance--with no mention of Jackson. I was willing to view the Jackson-related domain names as a bit of strategic cybersquatting, but commingling charitable enterprise with a manager's own commercial private business is not something a charity should do.
Then there's this intriguing Craiglist post from mid-June:
The nature of the problem isn't at all clear--another charity named "Heal the World" filed a "Heal the World" trademark application for charitable fundraising, so perhaps HtWF is looking for help to deal with that. Or could there be another problem here--namely, a challenge to the Foundation's repeated mention of Michael Jackson in connection with its site & fundraising activity? Either way, if Michael Jackson were really funding this charity, wouldn't he be connecting it to his legal team as well?
Which leads me to the next and last curious piece of evidence. Johnson claims in a recent interview that "it is NOT true, that HTWF stopped functioning as a charity at any point since its inception in 1992." But if that's the case, why do both the California Attorney General and the IRS treat Jackson's HTWF and Johnson's HTWF as two legally distinct organizations?
Putting together the above facts with various statements made by Foundation President Johnson, one reasonably wonders whether the Heal the World Foundation's supposed support from Jackson actually existed. Instead, the Foundation would appear to be an independent effort by fans who have scooped up the Foundation's dead trademarks and around (reportedly) 2,000 Jackson-themed domain names.
On its website, the Foundation continues to promote its "behind the scenes" connections to Jackson & indicates that after his scheduled "final performances" Jackson would have been "devoted to HTWF." Judging from the Foundation's discussion board, such statements have created the impression that Jackson really did support this charity. If the Foundation cannot provide documented proof of an actual connection to Jackson, donors--and regulators--have good reason to question whether this charity is really an improvement on its failed predecessor.