Former Exec: Komen Was Trying To Move To ‘Neutral Ground’

February 7, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

Taking aim at Planned Parenthood for its “vicious attacks” over the past week, Karen Handel said Susan. G. Komen for the Cure was trying to move to “neutral ground” when it decided to discontinue grant funding to the organization.

A Congressional inquiry by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), as well as state investigations, into Planned Parenthood was a factor in the decision, but Komen had been dealing with pressure about funding the organization long before she arrived, Handel told Fox News in her first interview since ending her nine-month tenure as senior vice president of public policy.

“Komen was doing its level best to move to neutral ground and I will say, I was asked to look at options for doing that. I looked at it and I did.” Asked whether defunding Planned Parenthood was her idea, Handel responded: “I’m saying, this was long an issue for Komen, dealing with the controversy of Planned Parenthood.”

Handel said she was amazed at the pushback against Komen’s decision to discontinue about $700,000 in grant funding to the Planned Parenthood. She said she resigned because she had become too much of a focal point and felt a responsibility to step aside so the organization could re-focus on its mission.

About 16 programs at 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates might have been affected by Komen’s decision to discontinue funding, which Handel said had come under scrutiny long before she joined the organization. Komen has since revised its grant eligibility criteria to not disqualify organizations that are under investigation.

Handel, who emailed a resignation letter to Komen Founder and CEO Nancy Brinker Tuesday morning that was obtained by the Associated Press, acknowledged being involved in the decision-making process “but to suggest I had sole authority is just absurd.” Policies were vetted at all appropriate levels of the organization, she added.

“The last time I checked, private nonprofit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards of criteria, without interference, let alone the vicious attacks and coercion by Planned Parenthood,” said Handel, who in 2010 sought the Repubilcan nomination for governor of  Georgia as a strong anti-abortion candidate.

“The only group here who’s made the issue political has been Planned Parenthood. Whenever an organization is looking at their grant portfolio, they want to do high-quality grants and have the strongest, most stringent criteria they can,” she said. “What was unleashed over this past week was a vicious attack against a great organization, and frankly individual attacks against Nancy Brinker, an individual whom I admire greatly. And I would think all of us should be saddened when an outside organization would put this kind of pressure on another organization around their processes and granting and how they do it and to whom they’re going to grant,” said Handel.

Asked why she declined a severance package, Handel said she understood that Komen is a nonprofit. “I was doing my job, I wasn’t interested in having a paycheck for myself to simply go away. I wanted to do the right thing on my own terms and that’s what I tried to do.”

It’s unclear how much Handel earned as senior vice president at Komen. She was a consultant for advocacy to the organization as early as January 2011, before being hired in April 2011 as senior vice president of public policy, according to a news release on Komen’s website.

The most recent Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 990 available on the Komen website is for the fiscal year ending March 2011, which was filed in December. The tax form that includes June 2011 is not likely to be filed before December 2012.