A Sleight of the Pink Hand

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, so let’s start with a review:

In 2011, my friend, metastatic breast cancer patient, and CPA Rachel Cheetham Moro analyzed Komen’s financial reports, concluding that a small percentage of the organization’s revenues are actually directed to research.  See HERE, HERE, and HERE for all the wonky glory.  The details of their spending allocations lie in direct opposition to the very name of their organization (“for the cure”) as they spend the bulk of their

Thank you, Rachel

money on education, screening, and, of course internal expenses.  The numbers shake out to a little more than $75 million spent on research in 2010, which in real dollars is certainly a lot.  But as a percentage of their budget, it comes in around 19%, seemingly at odds with its mission to cure breast cancer.

This is where the cognitive dissonance comes in, as Peggy Orenstein so thoroughly laid in out in her recent article.  We’ve become convinced that education and early detection equate to a cure, when they most certainly do not.  Komen’s survival in its current form depends on us believing that myth.

A spate of math broke out in the blogosphere.  When Komen released its own line of perfume in 2011, I calculated that for every $59 bottle of perfume you buy, $1.51 would go to research.  That’s the sort of number that raises eyebrows.

Rachel continued her numbers-based questioning in early 2012. Bloggers like me became frustrated with the lack of attention being paid to this.

Then, the Perfect Storm hit.

In late January, 2012, Komen announced that it would stop funding mammography through Planned Parenthood.  Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said that they enacted a new rule that Komen will not fund any organization under investigation by local, state, or federal authorities.  Since Representative Cliff Stearns was investigating Planned Parenthood, they were disqualified.

This excuse was big enough to drive all the trucks through.  For example, they pulled funding to PP and not to the Penn State, which was under that infamous sex abuse investigation at the time.  Many of us suspected that the real motivation was capitulation to social conservatives who love to target Planned Parenthood, ostensibly because they provide abortions.  Anti-abortion activists cheered.  For days, Komen got hammered in the media, in social media, everywhere else. Finally people were paying attention, and our groundwork about their numbers game started to get legs.

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And it gets better.  On February 3rd, Komen caved under the pressure and restored Planned Parenthood’s funding, whereby pissing off the pro-life people as well.

The sad, sad, tragic, and maddening irony is that while this implosion was playing out in the media, Rachel was in the hospital room dying of metastatic breast cancer.  She died on February 6th at the age of 41, nine years after her early detection of her early stage breast cancer that, according to Komen narrative, should have been cured.

So this is not a smug victorious story of schadenfreude.  For sure there was a little of that, but mostly this is personal to me. Infuriating.  Deeply wounding.

I admit to finding a little glee in continuing stories about Komen’s struggles to recover.  Heads rolled, including Leslie Aun‘s. Then the big fish, in August.  Nancy Brinker announced her resignation, although if you look beyond the headline, you’ll see that she was more just shifting roles than resigning.  No longer would she be CEO, but she would chair the board’s executive committee.  I just eyed this with suspicion, believing it to be a publicity stunt.

Now today, May 4, 2013, let’s look at Komen’s website.  Brinker is still CEO.   Here’s a screenshot, for posterity. (note 9/4/15: screen shot went missing in the intervening years…)

And yesterday, this bit from Dallas News Dot Com caught my attention.

The nonprofit’s latest 990 IRS filing shows that Brinker, founder and CEO, made $684,717 in fiscal 2012, a 64 percent jump from her $417,000 salary from April 2010 to March 2011.

The filing says Brinker devoted 55 hours to the cause each week, giving her an hourly rate of $239.40…

This is perhaps the most blatant example of hubris yet I’ve seen from this woman and this organization.  I’ll promise you something, too — Komen and Brinker are relying on America’s notoriously short attention span for survival.  They want to slip under the radar, hoping you don’t notice their profane irresponsibility.

I’ve got an idea.  Let’s disappoint them.

2 thoughts on “A Sleight of the Pink Hand”

  1. Should it be surprising that a particular non-profit entity has allocated capital poorly or persists in doing so? NP organization and industry structure fosters conditions of active agency rather than efficiency and innovation.

    Stiff wind in the face of even well meaning NPs.

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