The board of the San Francisco-based Japanese American Citizens League will soon vote on whether the organization should accept donations from tobacco companies, the Associated Press reports.
Anti-tobacco activists who argue that Philip Morris is specifically targeting Asian Americans as a new market are urging the 72-year-old civil rights group to reject a possible donation from the company.
"It's a very moral question that's being put to the board," said JACL executive director John Tateishi. "The tobacco industry has targeted Asian youth and minority youth, which a lot of people find objectionable for obvious reasons."
The vote has added fuel to a long-simmering debate about the true intent of corporate philanthropy. In recent years, many nonprofits have taken a stand against donations from corporations whose business practices conflict with the overall mission of the organization. For this reason, organizations such as the California branch of the American Lung Association worry that if the JACL accepts donations from Philip Morris, smaller organizations may follow suit.
"JACL is one of the largest and oldest organizations. If they take the money, others will be more comfortable with it," said Trisha Murakawa, a member of the California American Lung Association board.
For nonprofits like the Organization of Chinese Americans, which has accepted money from Philip Morris in the past, the issue is more complicated, however.
"For organizations such as ours, funding just doesn't come naturally," explained OCA program director Christine Chen. "Civil rights isn't as tangible as a cultural center that is easier to raise funds for."