Monday, February 06, 2012

Komen Foundation Reverses Decision on Planned Parenthood Funding, But Continues to Deceive the Public About Reason for New Funding Policy

Brand Will Not Be Restored Unless the Foundation Comes Clean; Organization is Still Practicing Politics, Not Public Health

After widespread public protest concerning its decision to withdraw breast cancer screening funding from Planned Parenthood, including an article last Thursday here at the Rest of the Story, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reversed its decision and will restore funding to Planned Parenthood.

The decision was apparently made on Thursday evening in response to the massive outcry. A statement released by the Foundation on Friday announced the reversal of the decision, and attempted to explain what the revised policy will hold:

"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives. The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters, partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not."

"Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair. ... We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities. ... We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue."

The Rest of the Story

Unfortunately, rather than a sincere apology, admission of wrongdoing, and honest attempt to move forward, the statement by the Komen Foundation appears to be a frantic attempt to save face in response to public outcry, but without having to take responsibility for what actually occurred.

It unfortunately has the effect of prolonging the controversy, continuing (and deepening) the deception, keeping murky the Foundation's separation of health and politics, and preventing the Foundation and its affiliates from moving forward and being able to concentrate on their actual mission.

Plus, the "clarification" of this new policy is itself problematic and untenable and creates more questions than it answers.

Most importantly, the Foundation failed to take responsibility for its politically-motivated decision to use the Stearns investigation of Planned Parenthood as an opportunity to rid itself of Planned Parenthood grants without having to make it look like a political decision. The Foundation apparently thought that by citing a new policy of fiduciary responsible grant-making, it could appease anti-abortion groups but without appearing as if the decision was politically motivated. Instead, the Foundation could argue that it would have liked to retain that funding, but it simply can't because it violates the rules.

However, it is quite clear that the funding rule was changed specifically because the Foundation saw an opportunity to rid itself of its relationship with Planned Parenthood in order to appease conservative anti-abortion groups.

Among many sources of strong evidence, an article in the Atlantic cites testimony from multiple internal sources that the decision was indeed politically motivated, rather than simply a concern about making sure that the Foundation was carrying out its fiduciary responsibilities:

According to the article's author: "three sources with direct knowledge of the Komen decision-making process told me that the rule was adopted in order to create an excuse to cut off Planned Parenthood. (Komen gives out grants to roughly 2,000 organizations, and the new "no investigations" rule applies to only one so far.) The decision to create a rule that would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to these sources, was driven by the organization's new senior vice president for public policy, Karen Handel, a former gubernatorial candidate from Georgia who is staunchly anti-abortion and who has said that since she is "pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood." (The Komen grants to Planned Parenthood did not pay for abortion or contraception services, only cancer detection, according to all parties involved.)"

"The decision, made in December, caused an uproar inside Komen. Three sources told me that the organization's top public-health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood. Williams, who served as the managing director of community-health programs, was responsible for directing the distribution of $93 million in annual grants. Williams declined to comment when I reached her yesterday on whether she had resigned her position in protest, and she declined to speak about any other aspects of the controversy. Three sources told me the organization's top public-health official, Mollie Williams, resigned in protest immediately following the Komen board's decision to cut off Planned Parenthood.

"But John Hammarley, who until recently served as Komen's senior communications adviser and who was charged with managing the public-relations aspects of Komen's Planned Parenthood grant, said that Williams believed she could not honorably serve in her position once Komen had caved to pressure from the anti-abortion right. "Mollie is one of the most highly respected and ethical people inside the organization, and she felt she couldn't continue under these conditions," Hammarley said. "The Komen board of directors are very politically savvy folks, and I think over time they thought if they gave in to the very aggressive propaganda machine of the anti-abortion groups, that the issue would go away. It seemed very shortsighted to me."

"Hammarley explained that the Planned Parenthood issue had vexed Komen for some time. "About a year ago, a small group of people got together inside the organization to talk about what the options were, what would be the ramifications of staying the course, or of telling our affiliates they can't fund Planned Parenthood, or something in between." He went on, "As we looked at the ramifications of ceasing all funding, we felt it would be worse from a practical standpoint, from a public-relations standpoint, and from a mission standpoint. The mission standpoint is, 'How could we abandon our commitment to the screening work done by Planned Parenthood?'" But the Komen board made the decision despite the recommendation of the organization's professional staff to keep funding Planned Parenthood." ...

"Another source directly involved with Komen's management activities told me that when the organization's leaders learned of the Stearns investigation, they saw an opportunity. "The cart came before the horse in this case," said the source, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity. "The rule was created to give the board of directors the excuse to stop the funding of Planned Parenthood. It was completely arbitrary. If they hadn't come up with this particular rule, they would have come up with something else in order to separate themselves from Planned Parenthood."

The insincerity of the Komen Foundation can easily be seen in the way it is administering this new policy. For example, it cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, but why did it not also cut announce that it was cutting off grants to Yale University, which is listed as a grantee in the Foundation's 2010-2011 financial statements? After all, according to the Yale Daily News, Yale University is under investigation for " an alleged mishandling of several instances of sexual misconduct in recent years," which - if true - represents a violation of federal law.

And why did the Komen Foundation not announce its discontinuation of grants to Columbia University, also listed as a grantee in the Foundation's 2010-2011 financial statements? After all, according to the Columbia Spectator: "The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint accusing Columbia of discriminating against a Jewish student."

Another grantee listed in the Foundation's 2010-2011 financial statements - the University of California at Santa Cruz, is also under a federal investigation, according to this article. Why is UCSC not the subject of a Komen Foundation announcement regarding termination of funding?

And of course, why is the Komen Foundation not announcing termination of funding to Penn State University, a grantee according to this 2011 financial statement? As we all know, Penn State is the subject of a federal investigation into potential violation of federal law in not properly reporting suspected cases of sexual abuse.

It is quite clear that the Komen Foundation is continuing to pull the wool over the eyes of its supporters, former supporters, constituents, and the public. By not coming clean about the true reasons for the change in grant policy and by furthering, rather than correcting, its deception of the public, the Foundation is in some ways making things worse, rather than better. It is continuing to make decisions based on politics and not a sincere interest in sharing the truth.

A true apology needs to be an honest one and the organization needs to take responsibility for its actions and be transparent about the reasons for poor decisions. By continuing to deceive the public - and in fact deepening the deception by directly denying the true reasons for its actions - the Komen Foundation is sinking deeper into a political hole rather than managing its way out of the hole it has created.

The revised grant policy makes no sense. It states: "disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political." What the heck does "conclusive" mean? An investigation is neither conclusive nor non-conclusive. It is the results of the investigation that may be conclusive or not. Either the investigation concludes that wrongdoing occurred or it does not. How would one determine whether an investigation is "conclusive," and what does that even mean?

It certainly looks like the Foundation is trying to weasel its way out of a tight spot by having us believe that there is actually some logical meaning behind this clarification of the type of investigation that "counts." It's a nice try, but it's not convincing.

Even the criterion of whether an investigation is "political" or not is problematic. An anti-abortion rights Board member could easily (and would likely) argue that the Planned Parenthood investigation is not political, but based on concern about violation of federal policy. The way the new policy is written, it almost ensures that decisions will be made based on politics rather than science.

In fact, it is quite clear that this is an untenable and contrived policy that represents little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to dance around and try to get out of the mess it has created without being honest about the true story.

The Foundation further muddies the waters by stating: "We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities." Just what is this last clause supposed to mean and why is it necessary? Why not simply state that the Foundation will continue to fund Planned Parenthood? Why is a qualification clause necessary to note that affiliates will have the ability to make funding decisions that "meet the needs of their communities" in context of the Planned Parenthood issue?

If the Foundation truly wishes to "move past this issue," then it first must come clean, be honest with the public, and stop this public deception. It must tell the truth about the intentional attempt to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, admit that the decision was political, apologize sincerely. Then, and only then, can it move past this issue.

While this whole episode has actually helped Planned Parenthood in the long-run by increasing its funding (a number of supporters came to its aid in the 48 hours after the media coverage of the termination of funding from Komen) and by exposing the political motivations of Planned Parenthood's attackers, thus undermining those attacks, the Komen Foundation is facing potentially irretrievable damage because of the destruction of its brand.

The rest of the story is that while the Komen Foundation did the right thing by reversing its decision and restoring funding to Planned Parenthood, it did the wrong thing by continuing to deceive the public about the real reasons behind the funding policy change and by being dishonest about its true initial intention -- which was specifically to find a way to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Everyone is entitled to forgiveness and apologies can always be accepted so that all parties can move forward, but this requires - first and foremost - a sincere and honest apology that admits the wrongdoing and does not try to hide it or the motivations behind it. Until the Komen Foundation shows us that it is willing and able to tell the truth, there cannot and will not be a restoration of the public's trust and its brand will remain tarnished. Sadly, the continued tarnishing of the Komen brand is unfair and destructive to women with breast cancer and to women in general.

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