Local NAACP leader Minister Rodney Muhammad has told The Philadelphia Tribune there is nothing to hide, no blurring of the lines, and no compensation from a so-called “dark money” nonprofit.
“Everything I do – everything – that is even slightly attached to the NAACP, I clear with national,” said Muhammad, the CEO of the Philadelphia Chapter of the NAACP.
Looking to clarify speculative media reports that he acknowledged “could be interpreted as blurring the lines,” Muhammad addressed a number of issues that have bubbled to the surface, most notably a $25,000 payment from the mayor’s office for consulting work; his ongoing role as it relates to the tax on sugary drinks passed last year in city council; his continued support of the mayor, and even his last name.
Earlier this month, a report surfaced in The Philadelphia Inquirer that Muhammad had been paid $25,000 through Kenney’s political action committee since April of this year. What added to the suspicion was that the check was made out to a Rodney Carpenter, not Rodney Muhammad. The two are one and the same.
Last week during Tribune correspondent Charles Ellison’s Reality Check podcast on WURD, Muhammad acknowledged the $25,000 payment was for his work to get Mayor Kenney re-elected in 2019.
“All of my business transactions use Carpenter,” Muhammad said. “That’s my father’s name. My stepfather’s name is Ellis. But if you look at my driver’s license, my passport and any business transaction I always use Rodney Carpenter.”
In 2004, at the national convention, late former chairman Julian Bond jeopardized the organization’s tax-exempt status when it came under investigation after Bond said that then-President George Bush practiced racial division. This resulted in a two-year investigation by the IRS that did not cost the NAACP its tax-exempt status. Federal law requires tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to be politically nonpartisan.
Conversely, when the Rev. William J. Barber, a member of the national board of the NAACP, addressed the Democratic National Convention here last summer and threw his support behind Hillary Clinton for president, he did so first by acknowledging that he was speaking for himself and not the organization. There was no investigation.
A spokesperson for the national organization in Baltimore did not put the issue to rest, saying, via email, that he could not comment on the Muhammad situation.
Told of what has happened in Philadelphia, Colandus Francis, who served as president of the Camden County Chapter of the NAACP for the last 18 years, said that he believed Muhammad had committed a violation because the organization must remain non-partisan.
Muhammad said the NAACP permits its officers to support political candidates and work for them as long as it is made clear they are doing so independently. Muhammad also said that an officer of the NAACP may run for public office. However, if that officer wins, he or she must step down from their position the next day. As chapter president, Muhammad does not draw a salary.
“I wonder what some people expect of me and how they expect me to make a living,” Muhammad said. “I can work as NAACP president because it is not a paid position. It might appear to be an uncomfortable arrangement, but I am entitled to make a living.”
Muhammad has been a vocal supporter of the soda tax, passed in January, which added 1.5 cents per ounce to the cost of sugary and diet drinks. The purpose of the tax is to increase revenue to fund universal pre-kindergarten education, community schools, parks, recreation centers, and libraries.
However, the tax has failed to produce the revenue it was projected to bring. Last month it produced its highest yield, collecting $7.4 million, an increase over previous months.
Muhammad supported the soda tax but, again, he says, not as a member of the NAACP. Muhammad partnered last year with Philadelphians for a Fair Future (PFF), a group that lobbied for the tax. It has been described recently in articles associated with Muhammad as a “dark money” group.
However, it lists on its website a variety of different supporters from local unions to faith-based organizations. The NAACP is not on the list. Neither is the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). However, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, to which PFT boss Jerry Jordan belongs, is.
“That’s just absolutely not true,” Jordan said of the dark money reference. “Philadelphians for a Fair Future is focused on creating more educational opportunities for undeserved children who will benefit from things like pre-K education.”
Attorney Michael Coard has worked with Muhammad, whom he regards highly, for years. However, he is very critical of the national organization.
“It’s a strong branch hampered by a weak tree,” said Coard. “Minister Muhammad has always been actively supportive of my relentless, pro-Black activism. However, its national office — which has an indisputably great history — currently ties his and all other local branch leaders’ hands with its outdated, timid and corporate-sponsored approach to dealing with today’s systemic racism.”