Komen Caught Pink Handed but What Else Don’t We Know?

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PinkhandThe Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle is far from over. The implications of founder and CEO Nancy Brinker’s statement to the American public have been parsed ad nauseum in the blogosphere. For producing hard evidence that the Komen organization targeted Planned Parenthood for defunding, and for beginning to map the organization’s ties to the radical right and the one percent, we owe a debt of gratitude to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, Adam Serwer in Mother Jones, and Richard (RJ) Eskow in Huff Post Politics. 

Most recently, Huff Post Politics’ Laura Bassett reported that “Karen Handel, Komen’s staunchly anti-abortion vice president for public policy, was the main force behind the decision to defund Planned Parenthood and the attempt to make that decision look nonpolitical.”

Also thanks to these reporters, we now know that Komen funds at least seven institutions in addition to Planned Parenthood that are under federal or state investigation, including:

  • Harvard University, for alleged racial/ethnic discrimination and alleged animal welfare violations;
  • Yale University, for alleged sexual misconduct and harassment;
  • Columbia University, for alleged religious discrimination;
  • Penn State, for alleged failure to report criminal activity;
  • The University of Texas, for alleged tax code violations;
  • The University of Wisconsin, for alleged conflicts of interest; and
  • Massachusetts General Hospital, for alleged Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations.

It appears that Handel neglected to review the Komen portfolio of grantees to make certain that their records were completely clear of investigations before she “ratchet[ed]… up the [Planned Parenthood] issue with leadership.” We also now know that Komen accepts donations from at least one corporation—Bank of America—under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (and the bank is also being sued by multiple state attorney generals for alleged mortgage abuses). 

But we need to learn much more about Komen’s corporate partners and private donors—such as Caterpillar, which is the focus of a worldwide divestment campaign. And now, the hard work of scrutinizing documents related to the organization’s research and political lobbying activities as well as its massive fundraising operations awaits us in the coming weeks and months. In 2010, Komen reported total revenue of close to $209 million. The public must demand to know how this publicly-held charity—which paid a salary of $417,000 to CEO Brinker from April 2010 to March 2011—spends and invests its money. A quick review of its most recent tax return raises more questions than it answers. For instance, the organization reported just over $85 million in charitable contributions for fundraising events, yet more than $8 million in net losses from fundraising events. In the nonprofit sector, we recognize that special events are double-edged swords that often bleed red ink. But with a track record of nearly 30 years and a corps of “more than 100,000 survivors and activists,” you might expect that the Komen organization would have figured how to break even on the Race for the Cure®. But you would be mistaken.

Based on the reports mentioned above, it seems that Komen for the Cure has been caught lying to the public and conspiring to cover up its deception. In the days and weeks ahead, we will find out how many—and whose—resignations are tendered and accepted, if any, at Komen’s headquarters in Dallas. And in October, come Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’ll find out how many corporate sponsors and individuals continue to support the Komen brand, the Race for the Cure®, and everything pink. 

R. Ruth Linden, Ph.D., a medical sociologist, is president of Public Health Associates, a San-Francisco-based consulting firm.  An expert on mammography and the politics of breast cancer, she is the author or editor of several books, including Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, which won the Helen Hooven Santmyer Prize.  Healthcare justice is her passion.

  • Alexandra Alznauer

    Thank you for compiling a list of those institutions known-to-date which Komen funds and which are currently under federal or state investigation and the reasons for these investigations. With so little of Komen’s support and funding going to its mission (whatever that is -Komen’s mission statement reads like a vision statement, not a mission statement) and with the now-apparent political agenda of Komen, perhaps it is time for some state’s attorneys general to investigate Komen…or perhaps the IRS should simply audit their books.

  • Margot H Knight

    My first thought and posts was there must be other partners under “investigation” making the elimination of JUST PP an obviously manufactured (and poorly conceived). Thanks for the list. Perhaps the nature of organizations is too grow too big to be effective and the mission changes from the mission to self-preservation at all costs. Sad.

  • Bob

    Can someone say, politically motivated “witchhunt?”

    Maybe people should have asked questions before blindly wearing pink to “feel good.”

  • Patsy C. Lewis

    In looking at the Komen website I was surprised to see both CEO Springer and her son are on the Board of Directors. I assume Komen has an Conflict of Interest policy that is followed by all members.

  • Tom Malone

    The comment about the fundraising loses are incorrect, and the author must not be familiar with accounting rules related to nonprofits. The IRS allows organizations to back out contributions (tax deductible donations) received at fundraising events, which may show a loss on the 990. However, Komen’s ability to generate total gross receipts of $90.8 million against expenses of $13 million clearly shows they know how to raise money efficiently.

  • Christine Rene-Howar

    Seems no one wants to talk about the cancer-ridden Koch money that they accept.

    It’s like pedophiles supporting the Girl Scouts…but that’s just me.

  • Ashley

    It breaks my heart as I continually observe non-profit organizations who forget their purpose. Even the idea of the non-profit who’s mission is not clear, direct, and in the heart of every employee is painful. When I’ve supported them in the past I thought their mission was funding breast cancer research and early detection, now I can’t even find a mission on their website.

  • Anita Durel

    With so many hardworking Komen affiliates throughout this country and so many dedicated people organizing a Race for the Cure in their locale, I can’t help but think that this great good cause has been highjacked. The Komen reputation has been damaged and will suffer on-going consequences because the political agenda of one person was injected into the higher mission to save lives. They may have lost their way, but whenever this happens, the credibility of all nonprofits suffers. There are selfish elements at play that have damaged our entire sector and deeply wounded the hard working armies of women who are the Race for the Cure.

  • Michael Wyland

    Yes. In fact, the conflict of interest policy, confidentiality policy, and related policies are posted on the Komen web site. All board members must disclose conflicts annually.

  • Julie

    What a bunch of hogwash.

    It’s been blatantly obvious that NPQ is pro-Planned Parenthood but to be as duplicitous -or ignorant- as to describe them as a-political?

    Now it’s time for some research and the facts.


    Noting, yet again, PP does NOT DO MAMMOGRAMS. They should not be receiving funding from Komen -it’s a complete non-sequitur.

  • Leslie

    Your statement that “PP does not do mammograms” is another misleading fact isolated for your own right wing agenda, when the FACT is, as previously stated, PP provides breast health screening to low- and no-income women and girls, including resources to go GET a mammogram. That is IN ADDITION TO a plethora of other health care services, including sexuality counseling and birth control education, which PREVENT unwanted pregnancies.
    Thank you: now that you have the facts, you can make a more intelligent choice, rather than judge.

  • Suzanne

    The Chicagoland affiliate of Komen does NOT PAY FOR MAMMOGRAMS. However, it does pay for the provider to do the clinical breast exam, the health educator to talk to women about changes in their breasts, and the follow up after a woman has her mammogram. Additionally, women under 40 should not have a mammogram unless receommended by her provider. This notion of not providing mammograms is a moot point. We have recevied Komen funding for 7 years and have ensured that hundreds of women got timely and effective screening services as well as breat health information. Mammograms are not the be-all end-all of breast health, nor have they ever been.

  • Unimpressed

    I am absolutely against what Komen did with Planned Parenthood, not to mention very surprised. However, I think this list of “investigations” is way over the top, and smacks of an attempt at character assassination.

    Come on, I heartily disapprove of the Bank of America’s mortgage practices, but what does that have to do with this controversy? And the University of Wisconsin’s “alleged conflicts of interest?” What is that, anyway?

    Komen has committed plenty of sins. This attempt to link them with unrelated “investigations” is a rather desperate overreach, not to mention completely unnecessary. Go after Komen for what they did, not because Mass General Hospital is accused of HIPAA violations, for God’s sakes.

  • Palau Seribu

    One of my favorite writers wrote an essay (now a book) about the incdicious marketing creep of pink “cure” when prevention is just unpalatable to corporations. Read barbara Ehrenreich, BRIGHT-SIDED

    How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

  • Palau Seribu

    [quote name=”Bob”]Can someone say, politically motivated “witchhunt?”

    Maybe people should have asked questions before blindly wearing pink to “feel good.”[/quote]

    I agree, but it is sad. A death or near-death in the family is a powerful motivator, and that’s why people march and run. I wish they would support single-payor (ie govt) healthcare, but it aint happenin in this country. The analytic vs the emotional. Breast cancer was an unspeakable for generations of women and it is no surprise that some enterprising people marketed that need to make the pain and loss public.
    The run for cure supports big pharma and the medical complex. Where is prevention? Eat your veggies!
    And don’t hunt witches, that kindly crone could be yr gramma!

  • PNW_Warrior Woman

    Although this is a fine technical point, I would say that what the IRS allows is one thing…what responsible non-profits do is another. Running events at a net loss rather than a surplus is sheer stupidity. My suspicion is those events continue to cost more than they individually raise because they’re now done to exclusively help recruit and retain corporate sponsors who want to piggy back on the Komen brand and THAT’s where the $$ is.

  • ruth

    I completely agree. The grassroots fundraising appears to be a loss leader for corporate cause marketing. Is that ok? I wonder if those involved would see it that way if they understood their efforts were marketing tools.

  • PNW_Warrior Woman

    Looking at Komen in terms of the institutions they support that are under investigation is a superb approach and has nothing to do with character assasination. It points out, again, the hypocrisy of their initial policy decision. WaPo reported yesterday that “Before the Komen board unanimously agreed to pull funding for Planned Parenthood last year, an internal staff review and a board subcommittee had concluded the opposite, that funding should be maintained, according to a former Komen employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. [Karen] Handel, who was senior vice president for public policy, objected to those decisions.” There is so much wrong in terms of finance and governance with this organization that it’s critical that these facts come out before another donor gets fleeced.

  • Julie


    There’s no need to get into a shouting match online, but if thinking low-income women deserve better ‘healthcare’ than planned parenthood lump-sums me into a ‘right wing agenda’ heaven help us. I know many women who have been ‘served’ by PP. Describing what happens there as health care is beyond me.

    One close friend was forced there for abortions by an abusive husband, another by an abusive boyfriend, and a third by her parents. I could give a handful of other examples. Did PP stick up for the rights of any of these women? No. Did they ever receive breast health exams? No. They routinely cover-up the abuse of women.

    As a feminist aware of medical science, I reject the pill as birth control or health care -it takes a properly functioning system and causes it to stop working! I also reject the kind of sexual counseling PP does that teaches young people to not be confident in their own sexuality but to ‘question’ everything. I stand for the right for women to make their own choice to be aware of the natural consequences of sexual activity and to own and be proud of themselves as women.

    However, the very fact that this is a seriously contentious organization to at least half of the United States should preclude them from funding by Komen -which shouldn’t be a contentious organization. We can all stand against breast cancer.

    Women deserve better healthcare than the pseudo breastcare services at PP, which have been brought to public attention over and over again.

    The media’s coverage of this event consisted of PP’s press releases -including NPQ’s. It’s a sad, sad, thing and shamefully one-sided.

  • lindy

    You seem to miss the point here. The only reason these other investigations are brought up is because that is the very reason Komen gave for cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood. They said they had adopted new standards where they would no longer give grants to any organization that was the subject of a federal investigation, yet they had no plans to de-fund any of these other institutions that were also “under investigation”.

    These “standards” were only applied to PP as part of a strategy to implement a political agenda. Karen Handel was specifically brought in as part of this strategy, and Komen has been lying about it ever since the debacle began.

    It is in this context that people are pointing out a;; the investigations that other grantees are involved in, which as you noted, are completely irrelevant as far as Komen’s mission is concerned, or at least what people understood their mission to be. Unfortunately, the character assassination here was self-inflicted.

  • David

    I agree that the author appears to be utilizing unrelated facts to augment an already negative issue in the nonprofit community.
    By bringing in Bank of America does this mean that all nonprofits who accept sponsorships or grants from BOA are now tainted?

  • Jon Rosner

    I am disheartened, but not surprised that yet another large non-profit has buckled under the weight of the wealth of those on the radical right. Nor am I surprised by the exorbitant salaries of the leadership of the Komen organization. At least we have some checks and balances. I, for one, will not continue my support for the Komen organization until I learn that they have cleaned up their act.

  • Charles


    As pointed out earlier, you are missing the point. It’s Komen that established the policy of not funding orgs that are under investigation and yet have a double standard when it comes to orgs they DO fund that are under investigation. And they are willing to take money from BofA when they are under investigation. The author of the article is simply pointing out that double-standard.

  • Robina

    Pitching my first place Run for the Cure…
    “Plastic key chain,” in the trash!
    DONE! My $$ will go to the local food kitchen in my town from this moment on!! I am so disappointed with non-profits and their ridiculous executive payouts! DONE DONE DONE