Medicine

Susan G. Komen's Apolitical Pink Turns Red

Friday, February 10, 2012

By now everyone knows about the money the Susan G. Komen for the Cure gives to Planned Parenthood. But who funds Komen? The roster includes Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow, a star in the anti-choice political field, and Donald Trump.

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A Luxury

The organization's public documents indicate that Brinker works 55 hours a week for no compensation, a luxury afforded by being married to the owner of Chili's restaurants, Norman E. Brinker, from 1983. (The couple divorced in 2003 but Norman Brinker stayed involved with Komen until his death in 2009.)

Komen is the behemoth among women's health charities. In federal filings the group reported that in 2009, the most recent year for which data was available, it raised $135 million, although it lost several million via fundraising events. In 2009, Planned Parenthood Federation raised $81.4 million and spent $59 million in program expenses. CEO Brinker was paid $417,712 in 2011; Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's president, received $354,716 in the fiscal year ending in June 2010, according to Reuters.

If Komen loses money on events, how does Komen raise so much for one disease?

The answer is corporate partnerships--that don't lose money.

On its website, Komen lists members of its Million Dollar Council Elite and Million Dollar Council. They include Conde; Nast Publications, owner of Self magazine; Ford; American Airlines (now in bankruptcy); General Mills, owner of Cheerios and other cereal brands; Caterpillar, the world's leading manufacturer of construction, mining and farm equipment; Walgreens; New Balance athletic shoes; Yoplait Yogurt; Belk stores; and Zeta Tau Alpha sorority (its 215,000 members collect Yoplait lids).

Since the ruckus over Planned Parenthood, Ford has taken out paid ads on Twitter saying the fight against breast cancer should not be politicized.

Zeta Tau Alpha sorority said in a recent website posting that its national council and foundation board would evaluate at a meeting at the end of February "what initiatives, partnerships and sponsorships are most effective in this important fight against breast cancer."

Enter Planned Parenthood

Of the $74 million that Komen gave out in 2009 grants, much went to medical research at universities throughout the country. The remainder went to education and a handful of programs providing low-income women with breast-cancer screenings.

Enter Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood's mission is to provide a range of health care to women, including breast-cancer screenings, Pap tests, sexually-transmitted disease treatment, contraceptives and abortions. Komen grants about $650,000 per year to Planned Parenthood to provide about 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals. Although mammograms and biopsies are referred out, Planned Parenthood doctors manage their patients' cases.

These are all figures that typically remain buried below the surface of polite conversation about breast cancer. It's healthy to get them out on the table for value-minded donors to consider.

Breast-health guru Dr. Susan Love directly challenged Komen's mission in an essay published Tuesday in the New York Times. The founder of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation argued that Komen has it all wrong. We should not be racing for a cure, Love wrote, but for the cause of breast cancer--which is in part what her foundation does. She also suggested other organizations to which Komen donors might contribute instead.

Now that Brinker's loyalties are clear and her power trimmed, maybe the public is ready to have an open discussion not about pink ribbons or cures but how the nation gets serious about the best route to improving the health of the nation's women. And maybe others will hesitate before signing onto the Republican anti-abortion, anti-contraception campaign strategy.

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Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief and founder of Women's eNews.

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