Planned Parenthood Funders Strike Back at Komen
Life + Money

Planned Parenthood Funders Strike Back at Komen

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

High-profile policymakers, advocates, and breast cancer survivors who once sported pink ribbons will do so no more.  Outraged by  the decision of The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to yank funds from Planned Parenthood, many supporters are closing their wallets to the breast cancer treatment and research group and funneling money instead to Planned Parenthood.

As an indication of the intensity of feeling, donors contributed $650,000 to Planned Parenthood over the last 24 hours – providing almost enough to replace the lost Komen funding for one year, Planned Parenthood officials said on Thursday.  Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker, who named the foundation for her sister who died of breast cancer, said Thursday that despite the loss, Komen’s donations “are up 100 percent in the past two days,” when the Associated Press first reported Komen’s decision. 

The Komen Foundation was accused of bowing to political pressure by conservative advocates who want to cut off funding to  Planned Parenthood because the organization perform legal abortions as well as multiple services related to women’s reproductive health. “We will never bow to political pressure,” said Brinker in a video message posted to the organization’s Web site.  She called the accusation that the decision was political “a dangerous distraction from the work that still remains to be done in riddling the world of breast cancer.”

However, the controversy is mushrooming into a public relations fiasco for the 20-year old foundation – which has enjoyed a reputation for volunteerism and informality even as its top officials were pulling down salaries in the $300,000 to $400,000 a year range, the organization’s 990 tax form from 2009 shows.  CEOs of charitable organization with more than $100 million in funding took in average compensation of $462,000 in 2009, according to a report by Charity Navigator.

Planned Parenthood is the largest reproductive and sexual health service provider in the U.S. and has used about $700,000 in Komen funding annually for breast cancer screening for low-income, uninsured women for the past five years.  The organization provides women with manual breast exams, but uses the grant funding to send women who cannot afford mammograms to screening centers.

Komen, the foundation known for its “pink ribbon” campaign, announced this week it was ending its five-year relationship with Planned Parenthood because of a congressional investigation into whether  Planned Parenthood illegally used public funds for abortions over the past decade.  After a recent change in leadership, the foundation adopted a rule barring it from financing any group being audited by the government.

Critics complained that the well-regarded Komen foundation had succumbed to conservative pressure from Capitol Hill.   Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, launched the probe last September at the behest of anti-abortion groups. 

Planned Parenthood’s clinics performed 324,000 abortions, which represented a fraction of the group’s services.  Contraception accounts for 35 percent, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment for 34 percent, cancer screening and prevention for 17 percent, and abortions for 3 percent. 
In addition to outraged donors, Democratic and independent politicians have declared their support for Planned Parenthood.  Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who were honorary chairs on Komen’s board, announced on Thursday that they would no longer support the Komen organization.  "When Joe heard about Susan G. Komen not funding Planned Parenthood anymore, Joe threw away his pink-ribbon Harvest Peach yogurt,” Jill tweeted.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday afternoon that he would match any donation to Planned Parenthood of up to $250,000.  "Politics have no place in health care," Bloomberg said in a statement.  "Breast cancer screening saves lives and hundreds of thousands of women rely on Planned Parenthood for access to care. We should be helping women access that care, not placing barriers in their way."  Bloomberg  previously donated $200,000 to Komen. 

Female Democrats in Congress condemned the Komen action, along with scores of advocacy groups such as the National Association of University Women, which promised to stop sending its members to volunteer in Komen races and events.   “I have been a big booster of Susan G. Komen, but not anymore,” said Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier on the House floor. 

The flap over Komen’s action has been the talk of Washington. According to a report Thursday in The Atlantic,Komen created the new rule specifically so it could have a reason to break ties with Planned Parenthood.  The strategic move follows a pro-choice vice president’s arrival at Komen last winter.  The organization’s newly-minted president for public policy, Karen Handel, is a Republican who ran for the Georgia governor’s seat in 2010.  She said on her campaign web site at the time, “Since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood." The controversy is sure to bring unwanted attention to the foundation’s operations and finances. 

A Fiscal Times review of Komen’s finances show that about 40 percent of the group’s $177 million annual budget goes toward grants to fund breast cancer research and care.  The remaining 60 percent is divided between advertising and promotion and consulting contracts,  each of which accounts for about $18.5 million. The budget also calls for $11.7 million for office expenses, $2 million for staging  charity race events, and $14.4 million for salaries. Komen’s Chief Executive Officer,  Hala Moddelmog, made $456,437 last year, and other top executives earned in the $300,000 range. 

“Komen’s financial structure is quite different from its public persona and many of its participants who fundraise,” said Cindy Pearson, Executive Director of the National Women’s Health Network.  “The participants have that grassroots-y feel to their giving, and then when it goes up to management, some of that is lost.” 

In addition to finances, this episode could also lead people to rethink their association of the Komen foundation with helping cure breast cancer, Pearson said. 

“Until now, most women who weren’t personally opposed to abortion had a place in their mental health universe that included both Planned Parenthood as the go-to spot for low-income health care and birth control and the Komen Foundation for breast cancer research,” she said.  “But now people are finding out that the Komen foundation is not willing to stand with Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer services when they come under pressure.  So most of the people speaking up are saying, ‘Komen-you’re out.’”