At least five high-ranking executives with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer charity have resigned in the aftermath of the organization's decision to eliminate its funding for Planned Parenthood.
The departures include three officials from Komen's Dallas headquarters, as well as CEOs of affiliate groups in Oregon and New York City. The chairman of the foundation also stepped down from his post, though he will remain on the board. Although some cited personal reasons, the resignations suggest that Komen is still in turmoil, even after reversing course and restoring the money to Planned Parenthood.
Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said she could not speak to individuals' reasons for leaving but acknowledged the effects of the controversy among supporters.
"Obviously, we know some folks are upset. We've certainly seen that," Aun said. "We know people have been upset by recent events, but most really do recognize the importance of our work."
The resignations began about a month ago. Chris McDonald, executive director and chief executive of the organization's Oregon and southwest Washington affiliate, announced that she'll leave at the end of April. She said her decision wasn't "predicated by any one event," but that actions by national headquarters affected her thinking.
"Despite our deep frustration about the distraction that our organization headquarters' actions caused, I was proud that our affiliate took a strong stand against the politicization of the fight to improve women's health," McDonald said in a Feb. 25 statement posted on the organization's website.
One board member for McDonald's affiliate, Portland attorney Jennifer Williamson, rejoined the board after stepping down last month to put pressure on the national organization. She couldn't walk away from the localKomen work to expand access to women's health care, she said.
"As a local affiliate we could push back on them but we couldn't do anything about it," said Williamson, who is also on the Planned Parenthood board and is a Democratic candidate for the state Legislature. "I did what I had the ability to do, which was resign from the board. But to support the mission ... I rejoined the board."
News emerged in late January that Komen had decided to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood for breast-screening services because Planned Parenthood was the focus of a congressional investigation launched at the urging of anti-abortion activists. After a three-day firestorm of criticism, Komen decided to restore the money.
Some Komen affiliates, including McDonald's, were among those that publicly opposed the policy change that cut off grants for Planned Parenthood.
In the days after the reversal, Komen policy chief Karen Handel resigned. She had opposed abortion as a Republican candidate for Georgia governor and had become a target of those angry about the decision to halt funding to Planned Parenthood.
In Dallas, the three resignations were Katrina McGhee, executive vice president and chief marketing officer; Nancy Macgregor, vice president of global networks; and Joanna Newcomb, director of affiliate strategy and planning.
McGhee announced in February that she would be leaving May 4 "for personal reasons" and because it was "time to make a change."
McGregor will leave in June, and Newcomb departed at the end of February. The Associated Press left messages Thursday for McGhee and Macgregor. Newcomb declined to comment.
Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr. also will step down from his post as chairman of the foundation's board of directors as of March 31, but he will remain on the board, Aun said. His decision, which was finalized at a Thursday board meeting, comes as he is "stepping back a bit" from the board due to his responsibilities is his role as provost at Howard University, she said. Leffall did not immediately return messages from the AP.
Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of Komen's New York City affiliate, said Tuesday that she will leave April 27. Her affiliate was also critical of the Planned Parenthood decision, but she did not cite that in a letter posted on the website, saying only that she wanted to pursue "new career opportunities" and that leaving "was not an easy decision."
Vern Calhoun, a spokesman for the New York affiliate, said Richardson-Heron was not speaking to reporters.
Supporters of the affiliate called, emailed, tweeted and posted updates on Facebook about their concerns during those first days of February. But, Calhoun said, "things have quieted down considerably" since the decision was reversed.
Nevertheless, the office decided to postpone two spring fundraising events because organizers were not certain of their ability to get donations in the "near term." In their place, the New York operation planned to hold a free breakfast event for grant recipients, supporters, volunteers and sponsors, Calhoun said.
Other Komen groups expect to carry on with business as usual.
The Los Angeles County affiliate will hold its annual race this weekend. Executive Director Mark Pilon said participation numbers are steady.
"We're tracking right what we did last year and our corporate sponsorship is up," said Pilon, who took the job only a month ago.
Pilon replaced Deb Anthony, who resigned last fall. She told Los Angeles television station KNBC in February that she submitted her resignation notice in December "for a variety of reasons." She said it was a coincidence that it came around the time Komen was in the spotlight.
"There are several decisions that Komen has made in the past year that have led me to decide that my skills and talents no longer fit their model," she said in an email to KCBS television. The AP left a message Thursday seeking comment from Anthony.
Komen did not publicly announce its decision to halt the grants but conveyed the news to its 100-plus U.S. affiliates. The head of Planned Parenthood has said she was informed of the decision in December.
Sandra Miniutti, vice president for Charity Navigator, said that the controversy is likely to affect Komen'sability to raise money. Although Komen is in good financial shape, the charity may have to spend considerably more money to achieve the same amount as in the past.
Her organization allows people to review charities on its website. Before the controversy erupted, there were fewer than 100 reviews of Komen. But afterward, that number grew to about 700, many of them negative, she said.
Because of the way the organization "flip-flopped" on its decision, it angered people on both sides of the controversy, she said.
Aun said the charity's "donations and our support remain strong."