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Richard (RJ) Eskow

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False Apology: At Least Four Komen Recipients -- and Sponsors Like Bank of America -- Are 'Under Investigation'

Posted: 02/03/2012 11:49 pm

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has reversed its defunding of Planned Parenthood, at least temporarily, but the falsehoods and hypocrisy haven't ended. An investigation has revealed that at least four other organizations have received Komen money while under federal investigation, while others have been the subjects of recent investigations, and a lot of the money Komen hands out was provided by sponsors who were also being investigated.

The Komen Foundation hasn't been leveling with the public. Even its apology was disingenuous.

The organization is behaving more like Bank of America, one of its most prominent sponsors. Like a Wall Street bank, its using its monopoly power to crush competitors, dictate its terms to the public, and to speak both disingenuously and hypocritically to the American people. The Susan G. Komen organization has become "too big to fail."

"Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation," said a statement issued today. But the evidence shows that no such policy was ever enforced for anyone but Planned Parenthood.

"We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political," the statement continued. Yet criminal investigations were ignored, and only the politically-based investigation resulted in action. The only logical explanation is that this policy never existed, or was invented solely for the purpose of defunding Planned Parenthood.

Monopoly to Monopoly

And while the alleged policy was aimed at grant recipients, not donors, the charity's increasingly implausible claim reeks of hypocrisy when the sources of its money are considered. Several large Komen donors are also the targets of past or current investigations. Bank of America, which is prominently displayed on the Komen website as a member of its "Million Dollar Council Elite," has paid tens of millions to settle fraud charges in recent years as the result of "federal investigations."

The Susan G. Komen Foundation targeted Planned Parenthood for moral scorn to justify a decision that we now know to be political, while accepting money from organizations that are under investigation and giving to others in the same condition.

That's what happens when a single charity pursues and achieves excessive control over one area of need. Like B of A and other large banks, it's a monopoly that's leveraging its size and influence improperly. Case in point: The foundation chose to cut funding for stem cell research. Given its size and dominance, that's a serious threat to this critical avenue of research.

The Komen website includes a sales pitch to corporate donors which notes that "Americans believe it's more important than ever for companies to be socially responsible... In fact, 83 percent of Americans wish more of the products, services and retailers they use would support causes... "

It's now clear that the foundation has a double-standard about who it gives money to and receives money from, and no compunction about using its well-known (and well-guarded) name to provide marketing clout and the appearance of good behavior to some bad corporate actors. And when it came to Bank of America and Komen, it was a case of one monopoly helping another.

Double Standard

In the aftermath of its move to defund Planned Parenthood, Susan G. Komen officials said it had adopted a new policy of refusing to fund any institution that was under federal investigation. CEO Nancy Brinker (who travels first-class at foundation expense, according to financial documents filed with the government) put it even more broadly when she said that the group had the "right to cancel if a group is under investigation" -- which presumably means any investigation.

Despite the new presence of a Sarah Palin-endorsed anti-choice politician as its public policy director, and despite new revelations that it quietly stopped funding stem cell research, the Komen Foundation continues to insist this isn't a politically motivated move. They claim they would cut funds for any organization that's under investigation.

The easiest way to defuse the controversy would have been to list other groups that were losing funding under the same policy. They didn't, which strongly suggests no others have been affected. And look who receives Kamen funds and hasn't lost funds.

Based on its latest legal filings, which is nevertheless only a partial listing of grantees, a casual review reveals five organizations which are under federal investigation yet still receive Komen funds. There may be many more; this is what a quick read-through revealed.)

Before we begin, let's be clear: We're not suggesting that these institutions don't do terrific work in the search for a cancer cure, or that their funding should be compromised in any way by the existence of these investigations. The purpose of this exercise is strictly to demonstrate that the Komen Foundation's stated reason for slashing Planned Parenthood funding is demonstrably false.

That said, here are the institutions whose current or recent investigations seem to undermine the "under investigation" rationale for defunding Planned Parenthood.

Harvard University is currently under federal investigation for allegedly discriminating against Asian-Americans and is also being investigated for violations of the Animal Welfare Act after a monkey died in its research labs.

Yale University is currently under federal investigation for failing to adequately address sexual misconduct and harassment.

Columbia University is currently under federal investigation for religious discrimination.

The University of Texas was the subject of an IRS investigation regarding its executive salaries and compensation.

Massachusetts General Hospital paid a million dollars last year after an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services regarding HIPAA (patient privacy) violations.

The Komen foundation also continues to give funding to the University of Madison, where a cancer researcher was forced to resign after internal investigations disclosed unacceptable conflicts of interest. And while we were conducting this research, Adam Serwer at Mother Jones noted that Penn State is also receiving Komen funding while it is under investigation.

The Million-Dollar Council Elite...

When it comes to federal investigations, a review of its business partners is even uglier. Consider the corporate members of its "Million Dollar Council Elite":

Ford Motor Corporation has been the subject of multiple federal investigations in the last two years alone. Probes involved defective floor mats on Ford Fusions, a jack defect on the Ford Freestar that was said to have caused at least one death, and an investigation of multiple potential defects on the Ford F-150 truck.

American Airlines is currently locked in a dispute with the Pension Fund Guaranty Agency, which filed $91 million in liens against the company the day before yesterday. The federal agency accusing Americans of "pocketing pension relief money instead of putting it into workers' retirements," as the Associated Press reported. No doubt there was a "federal investigation" before these liens were filed.

And while breast cancer is a great cause, one might well also ask why a corporation that says it's too broke to honor its pension obligations belongs to the "Million Dollar Council Elite" program.

... Million Dollar Settlements, That Is

But nobody outdoes Bank of America, which is featured on both the Komen Foundation's "Million Dollar Council Elite" page, and on its plain old, non-elite "Million Dollar Council."

Bank of America is currently under federal investigation regarding charges it has illegally foreclosed on borrowers. It stands accused of committing widespread mortgage fraud, including what was allegedly the largest "robo-signing" operation of them all. ("Robo-signing" is the falsification of court documents, and the filing of false court documents is perjury.)

Bank of America has settled fraud charges with SEC six times in the past 15 years. Each settlement was the result of a "federal investigation." With each settlement it promised to stop committing the same form of fraud. And yet it has done so anyway, at least five additional times.

Bank of America hasn't just been the target of many federal investigations. It "significantly hindered" one of those investigations. As Shahien Nasipour noted in a summary of the mountain of evidence against the bank, a federal auditor stated that "HUD's internal watchdog issued two subpoenas requesting documents and information, and what was returned was incomplete, had conflicting information, and in some cases, the bank provided excerpts of documents rather than the complete record." An auditor also said that the bank refused to permit a walk-through of its mortgage documents unit.

The HUD's internal audit -- a federal investigation -- concluded that the bank knowingly provided the U.S. government with false information. A federal investigation of the bank's foreclosure activity is ongoing, and was recently joined by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Any organization that cuts ties to Planned Parenthood over investigations while advertising its ties to Bank of America is guilty of gross hypocrisy.

Resist -- But Give if You Can

It would be tragic if women's cancer services lost funding as a result of this scandal. But the Susan G. Komen Foundation story appears to be one of power abuse, corporate cronyism, and politicized decision-making. The Komen group has been extremely aggressive in its attempts to force other such groups off the field so that it can dominate breast cancer giving.

That's too much power for one organization to have -- especially if it has shown itself to be unwilling to act transparently and change direction when it abuses that power. Stem cell research is a highly promising avenue for a cure. If the organization that's moved so aggressively to dominate funding refuses to fund it, an approach has been partially obstructed that might eventually save millions of lives in the future.

I'm not rich, but I plan to give more money to both Planned Parenthood and another cancer research organization as a result of this incident. I hope others will do the same. This could all turn out for the best, especially if the fall of one organization raises breast cancer awareness and increases support for treatment and research.

 

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