January 3, 2012; Source: Corporate Counsel

Maybe Karen Handel, the former senior vice president for public policy at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, was just confused. According to this Corporate Counsel article, Handel recently made a speech to the Family Research Council in which she said that Planned Parenthood violated IRS regulations by actively lobbying on behalf of President Barack Obama’s reelection. Handel also reportedly suggested that if the National Rifle Association or the Family Research Council had done what she claimed Planned Parenthood did, the IRS would administer a harsh penalty.

The Corporate Counsel article quotes a blog by Abby Levine, the Alliance for Justice’s legal director for advocacy, taking Handel to task for her faulty reasoning. Levine points out that it was the Planned Parenthood Action Fund that had campaigned on behalf of President Obama, an organization that is distinct from Planned Parenthood and that has a 501(c)(4) designation. In reference to 501(c)(4) organizations, the IRS states:

“Promoting social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, if you submit proof that your organization is organized exclusively to promote social welfare, it can obtain exemption even if it participates legally in some political activity on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.”

Easy mistake, right? When much of the general public thinks of tax-exempt organizations, they generally think of 501(c)(3) charities. However, there are now 29 501(c) designations in the tax code and several other designations that can lead to tax exemption. It is easy to be confused about which organizations are allowed to do what, so in that sense, we can perhaps empathize with Handel for her error.

Or can we? As Komen’s former senior VP for public policy, one would think that Handel surely knew of the Komen Foundation’s lobbying group, which is known as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance, and its 501(c)(4) designation. The group’s mission, as described in its IRS Form 990 for 2011, includes “advocacy to pass legislation that will help end breast cancer forever.” If Handel was paying attention when she was at Komen, then maybe she was not confused about what different tax-exempt designations can do but was merely continuing her anti-Planned Parenthood campaign (which NPQ has noted in the past). You’ll recall that it was Handel who reportedly led the charge for Komen to stop funding Planned Parenthood in the first place. –Rob Meiksins