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Komen lobbyist Karen Handel resigns

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 10:37 EDT
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Former gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, via Mike Kerfeld on Flickr
 
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Karen Handel, a top lobbyist for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation, has resigned following the group’s decision to restore funding to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), according to The Associated Press.

Handel was the former Republican attorney general of Georgia. She ran for the state’s governorship in 2010, but lost to Democrat Nathan Deal.

Part of her political platform was ensuring no taxpayer funds were used by Planned Parenthood, and she’s been at the center of a firestorm ever since the Komen foundation adjusted their criteria to eliminate grants for the organization.

Emails that have surfaced since the controversy began show that Handel was in fact behind the decision, although Komen founder Nancy G. Brinker has repeatedly denied that.

In her resignation letter, Handel “openly acknowledges” her role in defunding PPFA, saying that cutting off grants that supported over 170,000breast cancer exams was “the best [decision] for Komen’s future and the women we serve.”

“What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision – one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact – has unfortunately been turned into something about politics,” she wrote. “This is entirely untrue. This development should sadden us all greatly.”

Prior to Handel’s hiring, Komen’s lobbying shop had been 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.

When Handel’s democratic predecessor left the organization, she took an inordinately large severance package with her. Komen has since brought in former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer to advise the charity, even as they continue to deny a political shift behind-the-scenes.

Komen reversed its decision on Friday and made Planned Parenthood eligible for future grants.

CREDO action, a super PAC run by a liberal-leaning San Francisco phone company, said it had gathered over 24,000 signatures demanding that Komen fire Handel.

Handel’s full resignation letter follows, below.

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Dear Ambassador Brinker:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been the recognized leader for more 30 years in the fight against breast cancer here in the US – and increasingly around the world.

As you know, I have always kept Komen’s mission and the women we serve as my highest priority – as they have been for the entire organization, the Komen Affiliates, our many supporters and donors, and the entire community of breast cancer survivors.  I have carried out my responsibilities faithfully and in line with the Board’s objectives and the direction provided by you and Liz.

We can all agree that this is a challenging and deeply unsettling situation for all involved in the fight against breast cancer.   However, Komen’s decision to change its granting strategy and exit the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and its grants was fully vetted by every appropriate level within the organization.  At the November Board meeting, the Board received a detailed review of the new model and related criteria. As you will recall, the Board specifically discussed various issues, including the need to protect our mission by ensuring we were not distracted or negatively affected by any other organization’s real or perceived challenges.   No objections were made to moving forward.

I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it.  I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve.  However, the decision to update our granting model was made before I joined Komen, and the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization.  Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were based on anyone’s political beliefs or ideology.  Rather, both were based on Komen’s mission and how to better serve women, as well as a realization of the need to distance Komen from controversy.  I believe that Komen, like any other nonprofit organization, has the right and the responsibility to set criteria and highest standards for how and to whom it grants.

What was a thoughtful and thoroughly reviewed decision – one that would have indeed enabled Komen to deliver even greater community impact – has unfortunately been turned into something about politics.  This is entirely untrue.  This development should sadden us all greatly.

Just as Komen’s best interests and the fight against breast cancer have always been foremost in every aspect of my work, so too are these my priorities in coming to the decision to resign effective immediately.  While I appreciate your raising a possible severance package, I respectfully decline.  It is my most sincere hope that Komen is allowed to now refocus its attention and energies on its mission.

Sincerely,

Karen Handel

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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