MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
No doubt the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has done some good and honorable work, but according to the most recent audit of Komen, it had $471 million (page 11 of Ernst & Young audit, included in-kind goods and services) in "public support and revenue" in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011 - and that's a lot to account for.
The Komen Foundation also had a whopping $193 million dollars in net assets as of March 31, 2011. (See page 3 of audit.)
To the Komen Foundation's credit, it has posted its official financial statements from the last few years on its website.
So many women and men have invested their money, volunteer hours and hopes in Komen that it is reassuring to know that it makes its revenues and expenditures accessible, in terms of its audit and IRS required 990 forms.
But there is another kind of transparency that is lacking on the site. Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout wrote a commentary entitled the "CEO of Komen and Former Husband Gave Massive Donations to GOP." In the blog entry, we also noted the widely speculated role of anti-abortion GOP social conservative activist and former political candidate, Karen Handel -- who serves as the Komen senior vice president of public policy - in the Komen Planned Parenthood debacle.
Think Progress also ran a story late on Friday that former George W. Bush presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer played a significant role in a recent key senior level hiring at Komen. According to Think Progress, Fleischer - an opponent of Planned Parenthood - brought up the organization and its "problematic nature" for Komen during the interviewing process. The question of why such a partisan figure as Fleischer was retained to hire a senior vice president for communications and external relations is well worth asking, particularly in light of the communications disaster caused by the announcement of the Komen Planned Parenthood planned cut-off.
It should be noted that the ideological Planned Parenthood decision might have its roots in the return of Nancy Brinker as CEO (the founder, who named the organization after her sister who had died of breast cancer) in December of 2009, after she had completed a stretch of service in the George W. Bush administration, including serving as US ambassador to Hungary (thanks to campaign contributions to the Bush campaign) and as chief of United States protocol (ditto).
A review of the board of directors of Komen by BuzzFlash at Truthout reveals that Brinker has the likely votes to control board decisions at any given time, and that those votes are either Republican stalwarts or individuals personally loyal to her. For instance, one of the members of the relatively small nine-person board - given its nearly half-billion dollars in annual revenue - is Brinker's son, Eric Brinker. Another is Brinker herself, although, to be fair, many non-profit boards have the CEO as a member.
Linda Law, an apparently extremely accomplished real estate developer and consultant, includes in her Komen board biography that she is an "RNC regent." This means she is a top bundler and fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, an odd detail to be included in a non-profit board bio. Komen board member Linda Custard, a Dallas social insider, and her husband, William, are listed on opensecrets.org as giving more than 95% in significant contributions to Republicans.
Connie O'Neill is a Dallas socialite, who headed the Junior League there and numerous charity balls, has been on the board and working with Brinker on developing Komen over many years. Although there is no opensecrets.org record of her political giving, unless something has changed she appears to be a Brinker friend and insider.
That's not to impugn the integrity of Komen board members, despite Brinker's apparent de facto control of the board and the partisan leanings of some key board members. Indeed, there are some members, such as the chair, Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., who is a nationally distinguished oncologist -- also a medical professor at Howard University -- who appear non-partisan in terms of their roles on the board. So to for Brenda Lauderback, a cancer survivor, and Elyse Gellerman (also a breast cancer survivor), who represents the Komen affiliates.
Komen board member John D. Raffaelli, though, is a lobbyist who swings both sides of the aisle --although he started as a Democrat and has given donations to Dems -- is now a full-fledged K Street operative. Raffaelli showed his K Street colors when he told the New York Times (NYT) that "Komen was bitterly disappointed that Planned Parenthood was using Komen's decision to raise money." In another NYT article he played the self-pity card: ""Why are they [Planned Parenthood] going nuts?" Mr. Raffaelli asked rhetorically. "And the answer is that they want to raise money, and they're doing it at the expense of a humanitarian organization that shares their goals and has given them millions of dollars over the years." Whether or not Raffaelli's lobbying firm also has contracts with Komen could not be ascertained from the IRS filings online.
From some other of Raffaelli's statements, it appears entirely possible that along with Karen Handel, he played a key role in coming up with the "congressional investigation" excuse for cutting off Planned Parenthood in the future (before the so called "mea culpa").
What does all this mean in terms of the Komen board? It calls into question why a foundation that pulls in several hundred million dollars a year, based on the trust of donors who are looking to battle breast cancer - along with a massive "cause marketing" corporate brand campaign - is in the hands of so few people, many with a loyalty to the founder and current CEO, including her son and some fellow GOP partisans.
The pressure from anti-abortion groups had apparently been building for years on Komen. But is the role of Komen to work to reduce breast cancer or cave in to fanatics? Indeed, why did the board allow the hiring of Karen Handel, an avowed anti-abortionist, anti-gay zealot - as well as former GOP candidate for governor of Georgia -- as the vice president of public policy? It puts a right wing extremist as the titular head of government policy development for Komen.
This is not a political issue; it is about the struggle to live itself and vanquishing a virulent disease.
The Komen Foundation is not a private Republican corporate charity; it is a public trust.