Just the Komen Facts, Ma’am


    All the brouhaha about Planned Parenthood began at Susan B. Komen for the Cure after the hiring of Karen Handel, a former far-right Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who opposes the existence of Planned Parenthood (She’s pictured above). When Handel ran for the Republican nomination for governor in Georgia, she made no secret of her hatred of Planned Parenthood.

    Komen may protest all it wants that the decision to defund Planned Parenthood wasn’t political, but that won’t fly. Pressure has been great on it from fundamentalists and anti-choice groups. Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing division of the Southern Baptist Convention, even recalled its pink Bibles because some of the money generated for Komen was being routed to Planned Parenthood, no matter that the money was used exclusively for breast exams.

    One thing is absolutely true about Komen. It’s a huge money machine. In 2009-2010 Komen raised about $400 million. About 40% of the money went to “health information.” Only 20% was used to fund breast cancer research. Nancy Brinker’s CEO salary in 2010 was $459,406 a year.

    Komen’s decision about Planned Parenthood isn’t the only controversy the foundation has been in lately. There have been dust ups about its defunding of stem cell research, its use of “pinkwashing,” and its threatening legal action against other charities. Late in 2012 it ended all funding for stem cell research.  According to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Komen cut $12 million from funding to organizations studying embryonic stem cell research.

    “Let’s not forget that this organization is surrounded by a person, Nancy Brinker, who is a major Republican donor; she’s been a major figure in the Republican Party [serving in the Bush administration]. Their new senior vice president for public policy was an anti-abortion candidate for the governorship of Georgia,” Goldberg said. “It’s become clear…that this organization, or at least some of its leaders, lean a certain direction.” Yep. That direction is quite clear, too. It’s far over on the GOP right.

    “Pink washing” is the term used for the foundation’s partnering with all sorts of corporations that use its pink ribbon and the cause of fighting breast cancer to market their products, giving Komen a cut of the profits. One recent example was KFC, which featured a pink bucket for its fried chicken, hardly the healthiest food for people to eat. “Pinkwashing” has gotten so prevalent that Stephen Colbert parodied it a while back.

    Then, there are sorts of threats of legal battles against other charities that dare to use the word “cure” in their names or promotions. In 2007 the foundation changed its name to Susan B. Komen for the Cure and began threatening legal action against anyone using “for the cure” to raise money. Komen also wrote other organizations to warn them against any use of pink in conjunction with the word, “cure.”

    The Planned Parenthood controversy may be just the beginning of troubles for a charity that obviously does make decisions based on politics, at the same time it allows corporations to use its trademarks to sell all sorts of stuff, playing on the strong feelings many of us have about helping cure breast cancer. That’s not the behavior most people expect from the charities they donate to. At least, that’s not what I expect. Never again will I purchase something just because it has a pink ribbon on it, nor will I again sponsor anyone in a Race for the Cure.