Abby Levine

Former Komen Exec Wrongly Criticizes Planned Parenthood

Susan G. Komen faced a public backlash for pulling funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood.

Former Susan G. Komen executive Karen Handel is trying to “smear” Planned Parenthood, according to Huffington Post. At a recent public event in Washington, D.C., Handel implied erroneously that Planned Parenthood was violating its tax status through the activities of its political arm:

Handel went on to question Planned Parenthood’s status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. She pointed out that the organization’s political arm, called the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, campaigned for President Barack Obama and other Democratic candidates, while the health organization itself remained apolitical.

“How is that not a violation of campaign finance and IRS rules?” Handel asked. “I would ask you this: If the NRA [National Rifle Association], if the Family Research Council through its nonprofit was out blatantly campaigning for a candidate, don’t you think the wrath of the IRS would be raining down on you? I would guess it would be.”

An organization’s tax status makes a big difference. Handel questions the 501(c)(3) status of Planned Parenthood based not on the actions of Planned Parenthood, but on the actions of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.  The Action Fund, a separate legal entity, is organized under a different section of the tax law, section 501(c)(4), which allows an unlimited amount of lobbying and limited partisan election-related activities. Contributions to the 501(c)(4) are not tax deductible.

Like Planned Parenthood, the NRA also has multiple entities. The NRA is a 501(c)(4), while the NRA Foundation is a 501(c)(3). The NRA, like Planned Parenthood Action Fund, conducts overt – and legal – political activities. According to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks sources of money in political campaigns, the NRA spent $11 million trying to defeat Democratic candidates in the 2011-2012 election cycle.

Having affiliated 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations is very common. As described in our guide, The Connection: Strategies for Creating and Operating 501(c)(3)s, 501(c)(4)s and Political Organizations (Third Edition), such a structure is not only legal, but can be an effective approach to influencing public policy.

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