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Komen Foundation ousted their Democratic lobbyist just before hiring Karen Handel

By Megan Carpentier
Thursday, February 2, 2012 17:07 EDT
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Former gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, via Mike Kerfeld on Flickr
 
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It wasn’t until 2008 that the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a 501(c)3, founded the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Advocacy Alliance, a 501(c)4 non-profit that, under IRS rules, can spend unlimited donor funds on lobbying. It’s that arm of the Komen Foundation that former Secretary of State and failed gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel (R-GA) was hired to run in April 2011, despite being once investigated for issuing voter ID regulations that the Department of Justice determined to be discriminatory against non-white voters. She’d been serving “as a consultant” to the organization since January 2011.

Before Handel’s hiring, Komen’s lobbying shop was staunchly Democratic — from its head to its hired guns, former Democratic aides did most of the heavy lifting on everything from the breast cancer stamp to breast cancer research to its advocacy on the health care bill. And when their lead lobbyist, former Democratic staffer Jennifer Luray, quietly left in 2010, she took with her a six-figure severance package not in keeping with an employee that just found a new job.

At the time Handel was hired as a consultant — shortly after Luray left — Handel told the local magazine Northside Woman that Komen was her first and only client, and that her role was to “[work] with [the affiliates] to make sure they are as strong as they can be,” adding, “we’re making sure there’s a good relationship between the national group and the affiliate group [sic].” She told the Atlanta Trend last year, “Everybody understands that budgets are really, really tight in virtually every state. And that means that every program, no matter how worthwhile, is on the table to be scrutinized.” That would seem to belie Komen Foundation President Nancy Brinker’s assertion today that Handel wasn’t involved in the decision to end most affiliates’ grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings, let alone her assertion that none of their decisions were “political.”

Interestingly, before Brinker took the reins of the organization itself and Handel came on board, Komen’s lobbyists had typically leaned to the left, especially since the Advocacy Alliance opened. Though everyone from lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs to smaller shops like Foley Hoag (a law-firm based practice headed by former Kennedy aide Nick Littlefield) got money from the Komen Foundation to do what limited lobbying is allowed under their tax-exempt status, launching the Advocacy Alliance in 2008 allowed Komen to hire former Democratic aide Heather Podesta’s lobbying firm to represent them alongside its other long-term lobbying firms.

Finally, in 2009, Komen hired Jennifer Luray to run it’s advocacy shop directly and be their top lobbyist in Washington. Luray, who holds a Master of Arts in public policy from Harvard, spent three years working for noted women’s health advocate Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) before moving to the Clinton White House as the Deputy Assistant to the President in Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, after which she joined the staff of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). When picked to head Komen’s political arm, she was working as a lobbyist for Abbott Pharmaceuticals, a drug and device company that, among its many products, offers a breast cancer screening protocol.

But, according to lobbying disclosure records filed with the House of Representatives, Luray ended her tenure as a lobbyist with Komen in the third quarter of 2010, joining pharmaceutical device manufacturers Becton, Dickinson & Co. instead. IRS filings by Komen indicate she was given a $134,000 severance package upon her departure, which was almost a full year’s salary.

Savvy observers might recall that one of the women who accused Herman Cain of sexual harassment during his tenure at the National Restaurant Association also got a year’s salary, equivalent to $35,000 — and a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting her from discussing the matter. Neither Luray nor the members of the Komen Advocacy Alliance Board responded to inquiries by press time. But American League of Lobbyists president Howard Marlowe told Raw Story that “usually [severance packages] don’t last that long,” even when people are offered them.

It was in the third quarter of 2010 — August 10, 2010 — that Handel lost her run-off election to current Governor Nathan Deal (R-GA). Handel, who worked for former Vice President Dan Quayle’s wife Marilyn, had done some lobbying for KMPG and public relations for other private companies, had been in state government since early in the decade. By January 2011, she was a consultant to Komen, though not yet a registered lobbyist. Her salary remains undisclosed and, since Handel was hired after the end of their fiscal year, Komen’s tax returns — of which there are three, for the parent foundation, the affiliate organization and the advocacy group — don’t yet reflect her pay. Their tax year ends on March 31, 2012, and last years returns weren’t filed until December 2011.

[Image via Mike Kerfeld on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]

Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
 
 
 
 
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