Komen Foundation: Race for the Consumer

Posted on February 3, 2012


For those of you who believe that Komen’s decision to pull breast cancer screening from Planned Parenthood goes against what Komen is supposed to stand for, read the following words from Ed of ginandtacos.com:

I have been of two minds about how to approach this. One option is to be thorough, do some research, and make a careful, reasoned argument about why the Susan G. Komen Foundationtm is a marketing consultancy masquerading as a charity, a fact only reinforced by their recent actions regarding Planned Parenthood. The other is to put my gall bladder on the keyboard, crank the Dillinger Escape Plan, and let the bile-laced invective fly. Press A for the first option or B for the second.

That’s what I thought. No one ever picks A.

As a preface, please consult Lea Goldman’s outstanding, well-researched article “The Big Business of Breast Cancer”, which represents what may be the one and only outgoing link to Marie Claire magazine I will ever offer. It details the proliferation of scams in the charity industry (a fitting, if oxymoronic, term) that has sprouted up around breast cancer. There are many organizations that use the funds they raise primarily to raise more funds and pay handsome salaries to the administrators and their talentless family members. It is a long read but well worth it. Note well the point that breast cancer research is hardly suffering for lack of funds. The author conservatively estimates six billion dollars funneled toward research annually with almost no progress made since the 1970s.

Second, just in case you missed what all of the fuss is about, the Susan G. Komen Foundationtm For the Curetm announced on Wednesday that it will no longer be making grants/contributions to Planned Parenthood for early breast cancer screenings for the poor and/or uninsured. Nothing says “We’re committed to stamping out breast cancer by encouraging regular, early mammograms” like eliminating funding for mammograms.


The Susan G. Komen Foundationtm has been on my personal shitlist for many years (this post is from 2008). If this is what it takes to get you on the heretofore lonely Screw Komen bandwagon, so be it. But you should not have a low opinion of Komentm because of their announcement on Wednesday. You should have a low opinion of them because they’re a fake charity run like any other company with a product to sell. In this case the product is a combination of guilt, pity, and hope dissolved in a weak acid and dyed a nauseating pink.

Wednesday’s decision has been described as motivated by pressure from pro-life groups, but in reality Komentm is (and always has been) run by right wingers and closely aligned with conservative politics. The organization’s current president, Karen Handel, ran for governor of Georgia in 2010 and lost in the Republican primary. Sarah Palin endorsed her. During her campaign she promised repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood. She took over Komentm a few months ago. You do the math. On a personal note, Karen, I hope you get cancer. I hope the doctors find it too late to do anything but treat your pain, and I hope they do a poor job of that. Cut and paste that at your leisure to prove how mean-spirited and Uncivil liberals are.

Komen’s founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker, is a big money Republican with ties to the past three Republican administration who received a political appointment from George W. Bush as a reward for her fundraising largesse. She draws a salary of $459,000 annually, money well spent compared to the 39% of its budget the foundation spends on “public health education” (i.e., marketing itself). Not to mention that they also spend a million bucks per year in legal fees to threaten other non-profit groups who use the phrase For the Curetm, to which Komentm claims to have intellectual property rights.

That last part is important to the organization, of course, because every successful marketing campaign needs a good logo and a slogan. And that’s all Komen is – a consulting firm that helps large corporate clients sell more of their products through pinkwashing campaigns. By slathering everything from pasta to baseball bats to perfume to fast food with the Pink Imprimatur, consumers are led to believe that their purchases are making meaningful contributions to breast cancer research. Somewhere down the line a few cents per purchase may trickle into those bloated coffers, but the immediate and motivating effect of that pink packaging is to get you to buy things. In short, Komentm is a group of salespeople selling image. Whatever money benefits the sick, researchers, or recovering patients is ancillary. Getting those big, fat tax-exempt checks from their Partners for the Curetm is what drives their business model.

Am I too cynical? Consider their lack of discretion in choosing Partnerstm. Nothing says “We’re serious about stomping out cancer!” like a pink bucket of fried chicken or pink bags of deep fried snacks. It’s ridiculous on that “Earth Day brought to you by Ford” level.

There is a special circle of hell devoted to people who conceal their own selfish behavior with the appearance of charity and good deeds. I suppose that people who make so much money on the suffering of others need some way to look their spa-treated faces in the mirror every morning, but the rest of us need not be deceived. I have never purchased a Komentm-labeled product and I hope you will make a similar arrangement with your conscience today. Playing politics with people’s lives is low, even by the withered standards of morality in the corporate world. The 60% of women whose breast cancer is detected before it metastasizes survive almost without exception. The 40% of women whose cancer is detected after metastasis almost inevitably die within five years.

Regardless of whether they cave to public pressure and reverse this decision, I would love to see the Susan G. Komen Foundationtm and its self-aggrandizing, silly publicity stunts reduced to ground zero. I want corporate sponsors to feel like they’d rather put a swastika on their packaging than another Komentm logo for fear of a public backlash. And I want to prove that charitable giving is not wedded to the act of shopping. And since I’m so much better at pointing out what’s wrong with everything than at offering solutions, here’s what you should do if you want to help the fight against breast cancer:

1. Donate directly. Call or visit the Sloan-Kettering or Johns Hopkins/Avon cancer research institutes and ask how to make a donation that will go 100% toward research. Or donate to the American Cancer Society, which contributes less to research but does a lot of quality-of-life things like buying wigs or prosthesis for cancer victims. Donate locally to a hospital or hospice in your area that will use your money directly on patient services rather than commercials and administrative salaries.

2. Donate your time. One afternoon helping Chemo patients by cleaning their home or running their errands is worth more than all the yogurt lids in existence.

3. Say no to fake activism and Cause Marketing.

4. Remember that people die from things other than breast cancer. Cervical and ovarian cancer are overlooked. Men needlessly die from the reluctance to get regular prostate exams. AIDS is still a thing. Heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women. Depression is a leading cause of death among young people.

5. Share this with as many uninformed people as possible. On Facebook, via email, or whatever. Show them Lea Goldman’s article. Explain patiently why Planned Parenthood is used as a pinata by every floundering right wing political figure to score cheap points and get the rubes whipped into a frenzy. If you encounter said rubes directly, insult them. Suggest that his or her parents were related prior to marriage.


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Posted in: breast cancer