Komen Founder Nancy Brinker’s Mysterious Expense Report
Nancy Brinker, the powerhouse founder of the embattled Komen Foundation, billed her charity for $133,507 in expenses at a time when she had a full-time job elsewhere. Abigail Pesta and Aram Roston report on how her lavish spending and controversial leadership style alienated some staffers.
Nancy Brinker, a socialite, powerbroker, and former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, has turned Susan G. Komen for the Cure into a cancer-fighting giant over the past three decades. Now, critics say, it may be time for her to go—if she wants to preserve the very charity she built.
The recent crisis over Komen’s decision to de-fund—and then re-fund—Planned Parenthood has put Brinker under intense scrutiny, with observers questioning everything from her management style to her earnings to her spending. “It has all become a diversion. It has itself become cancerous,” says Eve Ellis, a former board member of Komen in New York City. “Nancy has accomplished so much and provides so many millions in research dollars, but the foundation needs to get back to being strong. For that to happen, she needs to step down.”
In interviews with The Daily Beast, a half-dozen former Komen employees who held a range of jobs at the charity in the past five years expressed similar sentiments, saying the foundation has become dominated by its larger-than-life leader. These people strongly acknowledge Brinker’s accomplishments, praising her immense skill at raising funds for lifesaving cancer research. At the same time, they describe her as an imposing figure who flies first class, prefers five-star hotels, and generally exhibits an entitled air, which, they say, is at odds with the organization’s important mission. Employees don’t call her “Nancy,” these people say. They are expected to call her “Ambassador Brinker.”
In the 30 years since she launched the foundation, Brinker has raised some $1.9 billion for cancer research. More than 100,000 volunteers work in a nationwide network of affiliates. It was all Brinker’s vision—she started the charity after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer in her mid-30s.
Perhaps because of the charity’s huge success and its close association with Brinker’s vision, people are especially interested now, amid the brewing Planned Parenthood controversy, in its inner workings—particularly related to the founder.
Brinker, 65, earns more than $400,000 a year at Komen, a level of compensation that is in line with the pay for top officials at other major charities, according to observers of charitable institutions who pay close attention to numbers like these.
It is unclear how much the Komen foundation pays yearly for her travel expenses and other costs. The foundation declined to answer questions on the matter.
The Daily Beast found that Brinker billed the foundation for $133,507 in expenses from June 2007 to January 2009, according to her filings with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. At the time, she was a full-time federal employee, serving as chief of protocol for the State Department. President Bush nominated her for the position in June 2007 and she held the job until January 2009.