People who support or participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure this Saturday are doing so to help in the fight against life-shattering breast cancer. What few of them know is that they'll also be raising money for a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort for higher federal spending and key elements of President Obama's health care bill.
The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation reflects the tensions that arise when a charity also lobbies, as many do. Not everyone who supports the charitable activities of a group like Komen also agrees with the group's legislative agenda. But when organizations use their bank accounts for both charity and lobbying, you can't support one without also funding the other.
In 2009, the Komen Foundation — a 501(c)3 charity and thus limited in the percentage of its money it can spend on lobbying — gave its single-largest “education” grant, $4.4 million, to the Komen Advocacy Alliance, its public policy and lobbying arm, which is covered by section 501(c)4 of the tax code and thus unrestricted in its lobbying. A Komen spokesman said the Advocacy Alliance uses that money for its non-lobbying advocacy, such as grass-roots education, and that actual lobbying money doesn't come from the 501(c)3. However, the Advocacy Alliance currently operates on a loan from the main Komen foundation (the 501(c)3). Unless you ignore the fungibility of money, supporting Komen means supporting its lobbying operation.
To be sure, Komen's lobbying agenda is hardly radical. Most Americans don't begrudge more federal money for breast-cancer research or laws prohibiting insurers from refusing to cover pre-existing conditions. Also, many Americans are fine with embryonic stem-cell research. But the group's blending of charity and lobbying creates a painful choice for a sizable minority in the country, including those who worry intensely about budget deficits or steadfastly oppose Obama's health care policies. For them, supporting the noble aims of the Race for the Cure also means supporting an objectionable political agenda.
Heather Podesta, the most famous of Komen's K Street hired guns (and a leading Democratic Party fundraiser), reports that her firm lobbied on Komen's behalf for “support [for] H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act/H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it relates to breast cancer prevention, screening, research, and treatment.” In other words, Komen supported Obamacare insofar as it included provisions it supported. Komen spokesman Sean Tuffnell, however, told me thatKomen “never did fully endorse the legislation.”
Mostly, Komen works Capitol Hill for more breast-cancer research funding, taking credit for the rise in federal breast-cancer spending from $30 million in 1982 to nearly $900 million. Again, this spending has broad support — but not universal support among those willing to walk or donate to battle the disease. Does this federal focus on breast cancer take away funding from other serious — but not as politically favored — diseases? If not, then it's adding the deficit or causing higher taxes.
So, here's the problem: If you are happy to part with your own money and time to help fight cancer, but worry about our country's impending fiscal disaster, you've got a dilemma. And there's no good choice here for anyone who thinks breast-cancer sufferers need better health care, and who think Obamacare is the wrong way to go.
Tuffnell says Komen is transparent about its agenda and keeps its lobbying to issues with broad public support. Anyone who objects to greater federal spending on breast cancer, Tuffnell argued, is the kind of person who doesn't donate to a breast cancer charity. But that's not true. Calling for more federal breast-cancer spending is working to force your neighbors — or, more accurately, the next generation of taxpayers — to pay. You can believe a cause is worthy of your charity without wanting to force others to fund it.
A 2006 study by economist and social scientist Arthur Brooks,now president of the American Enterprise Institute, found that conservatives, although earning 7 percent less than liberals, give 30 percent more to charity. Conservatives are also more likely to oppose federal spending. But Komen, by hiring Democratic fundraisers to call for more spending and lend some support to Obamacare, has injected politics where politics doesn't belong.
Again, Komen is just one example of a nonprofit lobbying up. As government controls more of our lives, we can expect more charities to join in the race to K Street.
Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.