A Teaching Moment about Politics and Komen

By King, Samantha | St. Joseph News-Press, February 7, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Teaching Moment about Politics and Komen


King, Samantha, St. Joseph News-Press


(CNN) -- Karen Handel, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation vice president---and lightning rod in the group's public relations storm over Planned Parenthood funding--stepped down from her position Tuesday. For many it was almost a satisfying ending to an eye-opening incident. None of it should have come as a shock.

When the Komen foundation last week bowed to pressure from anti- abortion activists to stop most of its funding of Planned Parenthood, the furor was swift and forceful. Komen's decision was frequently described in the media and in the online outcry as a "betrayal" --- of its mission, of the millions of Americans who run in its Race for the Cure every year, and of the women whom Komen and Planned Parenthood serve.

But to people familiar with the foundation, the decision was hardly a surprise. Under the perky pink ribbon at the center of Komen's brand lies a distinctly conservative orientation shaped over three decades by the foundation's political and corporate alliances.

Despite its carefully cultivated nonpartisan image, the foundation's connections to the Republican Party are deep and longstanding. Nancy Brinker, Komen's founder, has raised thousands of dollars for the GOP over the years and was rewarded when President George W. Bush named her ambassador to Hungary in 2001. Last year's hiring of Handel, an anti-abortion Republican, to head Komen's public policy efforts was not a sudden swing to the right, as some commentators have implied.

Beyond this, even a cursory glance at the group's corporate partners could help explain why so much of its funding goes to detection and treatment. In interviews, Komen executives have denied that their corporate funders exert any influence over their policy decisions.

But an organization that takes money from the chemical and energy industries, fast food companies, and cosmetics manufacturers is unlikely to fund research on environmental toxins or pursue other prevention-oriented concerns. And, for the most part, Komen doesn't.

Instead, the foundation focuses on early detection through mammography -- an imperfect tool -- and fundraising for treatment- oriented research, which has produced little in the way of concrete results. People with breast cancer have essentially the same options as they did half a century ago: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. While their chances of dying from the disease have improved very slightly in recent years, breast cancer incidence rose steeply over the course of the 20th century to one in eight today.

Komen is hardly the only case of a foundation held sway by political and corporate interests. Philanthropy is political; it always has been. Like public funds raised through taxation, decisions about how to spend money generated through charitable giving are controversial and subject to partisanship. …

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