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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Susan G. Komen for the Cure continues to be a cautionary tale about the toxicity of our politics, and how easy it is for those politics to drive a large and trusted charity into a ditch.

A movement is forming to pressure the nonprofit’s founding CEO to resign, to walk away from the organization she founded 30 years ago in memory of a sister who died of breast cancer. Nancy G. Brinker is why pink now symbolizes breast cancer awareness and why Komen is a stellar model of fundraising and marketing savvy, raising more than $350 million annually.

In the wake of Komen’s unpopular decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and its subsequent hasty reversal of that policy, several key executives for the Dallas-based charity, including the head of its important New York affiliate, have announced plans to leave. Moreover, the New York affiliate has shelved plans for an annual fundraising gala, likely in fear of a disappointing turnout. Other affiliates are expecting similar difficulties.

Komen’s Planned Parenthood debacle was a textbook example of weak leadership. It began with outside agitators pitching a battle that had nothing to do with stopping the 40,000 deaths to breast cancer that occur every year. And it ended when a partisan operative was given a key role in the organization’s management — and used it to advance a divisive political agenda.

The agitators in question include Catholic bishops, Republican politicians and conservative pressure groups that have long regarded Planned Parenthood as Public Enemy No. 1. According to a report by Reuters, some 23 Catholic dioceses have publicly questioned the morality of supporting Komen due to its funding of Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer outreach programs. (Those programs serve mostly poor women and do not fund abortion or stem-cell research, according to Planned Parenthood.) Ohio’s 11 bishops banned parishes from raising any funds for Komen, and the North Dakota Catholic Conference “cautioned its nearly 190,000 parishioners against donating to Komen,” according to Reuters.

Interestingly, Catholic organizations, including some in Ohio, continued to accept Komen funds.

A year ago, Komen hired Karen Handel as its vice president for public policy. Handel, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the governorship of Georgia, had made public avowals of her hostility to Planned Parenthood. According to many accounts, it was Handel who engineered the policy change that culminated in the Jan. 31 announcement that Komen was severing its funding relationship with Planned Parenthood.

Komen couched its decision in a new policy that withheld funding from any organization under government investigation. Planned Parenthood wasn’t under formal investigation, although U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican, as chairman of a Energy and Commerce subcommittee was conducting oversight into how the organization used federal funds.

That weak pretext appears to have been Komen’s basis for its disastrously foolish decision.

Within days of that decision, Komen reinstated Planned Parenthood, Handel resigned, and various Komen executives beat their breasts and mumbled their mea culpas. That’s not enough.

As is the case with millions of other Americans, breast cancer has touched my life, in the death of a dear friend’s wife to the disease and the scares of friends and family members who found lumps, both benign and malignant. I’ve run in the local Komen affiliate’s Race for the Cure, and I readily reach for pink golf balls, baseball caps, water bottles and other items when a portion of the sale goes to Komen. Even the dog has worn a pink handkerchief around her neck.

Komen made a big mistake in bowing to political pressure to carry water for someone else’s cause. I need to know that will not happen again, and I’m not alone. A lot of good will and dollars are in danger of evaporating.

Past criticisms leveled at Komen — that it is too large and dominant in the breast cancer cause, that it is insensitive in asserting its claims to ownership of pink ribbons and the slogan “for the cure,” among other unfortunate traits — only add to the impression that Komen has lost its way.

And that’s a shame, because there’s a lot to love — and, hopefully, to salvage — in this exemplary organization.

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at [email protected]

  • ram1020

    One can look at the Komen/Planned Parenthood relationship in many ways. One way is to take your perspective and blame Conservatives for the debacle, or one may question why NPR chose to make this political and public.

    What service toward a cure for Breast Cancer does Planned Parenthood provide for the $700,000 that they receive from Komen? According to PP’s website, they teach self examination and make referrals for mamograms. What special training or special equipment is required for that? It seems that the services provided for breast health by Planned Parenthood could be provided without the Komen funding, if Planned Parenthood was committed to womens health, and if a political statement did not need to be made.

    The Komen money given to Planned Parenthood might be otherwise used for training, equipment, and research that would be more effective in fighting the disease, and more appropriate to their mission.

    What NPR and the media accomplished was nothing more than left wing bullying that created controversy over Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. They stirred up emotion that did nothing but disenchant Komen donors who feel strongly one way or the other about Planned Parenthood, thus imparing Komen’s efforts to fight Breast Cancer. All of this was done over an amount of $700,000; an amount that was not significant to the operation of Planned Parenthood, but could have been significant to breast health in rural areas that PP does not service.

    It is truly disengenuous of the media to be critical of Komen management when is was the media that turned this into a political circus. Those responsible for lives lost or damaged that would otherwise be helped by Komen are not those in Komen management, but are the those in the agenda driven media.

  • ram1020

    One can look at the Komen/Planned Parenthood relationship in many ways. One way is to take your perspective and blame Conservatives for the debacle, or one may question why NPR chose to make this political and public.

    What service toward a cure for Breast Cancer does Planned Parenthood provide for the $700,000 that they receive from Komen? According to PP’s website, they teach self examination and make referrals for mamograms. What special training or special equipment is required for that? It seems that the services provided for breast health by Planned Parenthood could be provided without the Komen funding, if Planned Parenthood was committed to womens health, and if a political statement did not need to be made.

    The Komen money given to Planned Parenthood might be otherwise used for training, equipment, and research that would be more effective in fighting the disease, and more appropriate to their mission.

    What NPR and the media accomplished was nothing more than left wing bullying that created controversy over Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. They stirred up emotion that did nothing but disenchant Komen donors who feel strongly one way or the other about Planned Parenthood, thus imparing Komen’s efforts to fight Breast Cancer. All of this was done over an amount of $700,000; an amount that was not significant to the operation of Planned Parenthood, but could have been significant to breast health in rural areas that PP does not service.

    It is truly disengenuous of the media to be critical of Komen management when is was the media that turned this into a political circus. Those responsible for lives lost or damaged that would otherwise be helped by Komen are not those in Komen management, but are the those in the agenda driven media.

    • monkeybass

      Left agenda? So you’re defending the initial manipulation by the ‘Right’ on the response of the ‘Left’? Ah, I see. The world would be so much better off if the Right had quietly gotten their way? Remember there wasn’t overwhelming public support for Komen pulling PP funding, the overwhelming response from EVERYONE (never mind Left-or-Right) should let you know something about how the MAJORITY feels.

      I’m sorry, but popular opinion doesn’t seem to echo your take on things.

      • Popular opinion is popular opinion, not always right. I may agree with you, and I think the media is always turning any issue into a fight, to make it more exciting and so to sell newspapers or TV? Ugh! But putting down someone’s comment because it is not popular is not helpful. I think women DON’T find a fight that exciting anyway; we can, and often do, better.

        • monkeybass

          Certainly popular opinion is not always right, but the point of popular opinion is that when most of the gen-pops have the same opinion about something it gives weight to the opinion they have. Sort of like when 97% of scientists think global warming is an issue, it’s much harder to side with the 3% when faced with that statistic (or insert other experts in other situation).

          In an unrelated idea if you’re championing the cause of ‘the 1%’ all the time it may be easier to side with that 3% dissenting voice. I think popular opinion has a lot to say, don’t think I equate that with being right.

          • ram1020

            Opinion is opinion, and facts are facts. Komen’s races are being cancelled in some areas and the Foundation has lost donors. NPR and the media alienated both sides of the Planned Parenthood/abortion issue against Komen. So Komen’s fight against breast cancer loses, but Planned Parenthood has another $700,000, which for them is a drop in the bucket.

            You, and your public opinion, have done wonders for Womens Health!

          • monkeybass

            The base who supports breast cancer will still support breast cancer. I hope you don’t think that money just disappears because the name ‘Komen’ isn’t up front in the spotlights…?
            I used to contribute to Komen and I will continue to support breast cancer, just not through them. Trust me, people aren’t going to stop donating money just because the company who used to pick up their donations is not so prevalent anymore, if it’s in their hearts to give, they will give. If they don’t they probably weren’t going to give in the first place.

            My opinions and I can sleep fine at night.

  • VK

    To ask “What service toward a cure for Breast Cancer does Planned Parenthood provide…” is really a ridiculous question. Komen provides funds to Planned Parenthood to do breast cancer screening to catch the disease early so women have a chance to survive a battle with this cancer. Would men not accept free prostate cancer screening – which Planned Parenthood provides – to avoid suffering this cancer although there is no cure?

    It’s called preventative/catch it early medicine to save lives and save on medical expenses – much cheaper to catch early than have all the treatments, hospital stays, etc.

    You also make no sense as to the expenses of PP. The number of women who go to PP has increased (unfortunately the right wing republicans have shut down or limited access to PP) because many have lost medical insurance and are young and poor women who cannot afford medical insurance. This means to cover expenses for the increase in the number of women – and men, by the way – as well as to give screenings, funding is necessary.

    Following ram1020’s logic, why donate to any organization that helps people with asthma or diabetes or heart disease when there is no cure for these diseases? What can they possibly do to change that? In fact, they help save lives by putting people on the right track and that is worth making donations.

    It is not disingenuous for the media to make a political issue of this because the media has exposed the right wing conservatives who, in this case, infiltrated a fantastic and helpful organization to achieve their political agenda. The agenda has nothing to do with cancer or women’s health. It has to do with the fact that 3% of the work PP does is to help provide women with abortions. The right wing ideology, in all its illogical thinking, wants to eliminate abortions and to destroy PP is one way to achieve their goal.

    Those responsible for lives lost are the right wing ideologues who want things their way. Just look at Arizona and the 3 lives lost because the right wing legislators cut $3 million to help people who need transplants. A mere $3 million out of a multi-million budget.
    Tell the the wife and 2 young children and the family of the man who was on the list for a transplant but died because of this that this was the media’s fault.