DALLAS — The recent scrutiny of Susan G. Komen for the Cure's uneasy relationship with Planned Parenthood revealed the risks any nonprofit faces in deciding where to spend its money so its mission doesn't appear compromised.
Charities also must answer a related question: Whose money is good enough to take?
Dallas-based Komen, the prime force in making a cure for breast cancer a national crusade, raises money from its well-known footraces but also gets money from product tie-ins with dozens of corporations.
In most cases, Komen's trademarked pink ribbon appears on household and consumer products.
One of Komen's biggest sponsors, paper and plywood maker Georgia-Pacific, has donated about $4.5 million to Komen since 2004. Georgia-Pacific's Quilted Northern bathroom tissue and Vanity Fair paper napkins carry the famous Komen logo, and the company is a member of Komen's honorary Million Dollar Council, denoting the top donors.
But Georgia-Pacific's involvement in cancer and health doesn't end with Komen, illustrating an often-found complication in the calculus of charity, not just for Komen but for others nationwide.
The Atlanta-based company, owned since 2005 by Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., emits chemicals known to cause cancer in people.
They include formaldehyde, which medical researchers have linked to cancer of the nasal mucosa, larynx, respiratory tract and pancreas.
Representatives for Komen and Georgia-Pacific said the company's paper products passed Komen's internal health review. Since women are the main purchasers, they said, linking the Komen and corporate brands helps promote the fight against breast cancer.
Chemical-makers, including Koch Industries, lobbied Congress and regulators hard to keep the National Toxicology Program, a federal clearinghouse on toxic chemicals, from listing formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.
The toxicology program withstood corporate and congressional pressure and listed formaldehyde last summer.
In 2010, the most recent year with federal data available, Georgia-Pacific emitted about 200,000 pounds of formaldehyde into the air from 23 plants in 14 states, including a plant in Lufkin, Texas.
Since reporting began in 1988, Georgia-Pacific has released 12.1 million pounds of formaldehyde. The emissions are legal.
Yet the story is even more complex: Koch Industries co-owner David Koch, 71, a prostate cancer survivor, is among the world's biggest funders of cancer research. He has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, with the goal of ending cancer during his lifetime.
Georgia-Pacific spokesman Greg Guest said the company is committed to community service, as well as profit.
"Part of our commitment to being sustainable is to continually be as efficient as we can, to use fewer resources" while serving consumers' needs, he said.
"We're constantly looking at our operations and striving to improve."
The company complies with all regulations, he said.
Connections between breast cancer and the environment, especially industrial chemicals such as the ones Georgia-Pacific emits, remain unclear.
As part of its research funding, Komen paid for a National Academy of Sciences-Institute of Medicine review of available evidence on environmental chemicals' links to breast cancer.
The report, published in December, found that not enough is known and more research is needed.
Some of Komen's corporate connections stirred complaints long before the Planned Parenthood problem arose in January, when Komen cut off money that Planned Parenthood used for breast cancer screening, but then restored it after a nationwide uproar.
Earlier, activists had pointed to Komen-related products that contain bisphenol A, or BPA, a chemical used in many plastic items, food and drink can coatings, and other products. Some suggested that Komen's corporate links had kept Komen from taking a stand against the chemical.
Companies that use BPA "also downplay health concerns," writer Amy Silverstein noted in reporting on Komen and BPA in Mother Jones magazine in October.
Komen says that all its statements are based on scientific evidence, and that it is funding research on BPA and breast cancer.
Last year, activists criticized Komen for its ties to Promise Me perfume, saying it contained harmful ingredients. Komen said the product met all applicable standards. The charity posted a message on its website explaining its product-screening system.
In 2010, the system did not stop one of the most controversial product tie-ins: a deal with Kentucky Fried Chicken that turned buckets into pink promotions for Komen and breast cancer awareness.
Critics said Komen had embraced heart attack risks in exchange for KFC's money. Heart disease kills more American women each year than all cancers combined.
Komen's communications director, Andrea Rader, said the KFC campaign drove 200,000 people to an educational website and raised $4 million for Komen. No one would think Komen was telling people it was healthy to eat endless buckets of fried chicken, she said.
Nonprofits other than Komen have learned the risks of taking money that seems at cross-purposes with their mission.
Last month, Time magazine revealed that over several years, the Sierra Club, one of the nation's most powerful grassroots environmental organizations, had accepted $26 million from Aubrey McClendon, chairman of Chesapeake Energy, the natural gas producer.
The Sierra Club used McClendon's money to fund its campaign against coal-burning power plants, boosting natural gas — McClendon's product — as a cleaner alternative.
At the same time, club members across the country were protesting hydraulic fracturing, the main method for producing natural gas in North Texas' Barnett Shale and other regions. Chesapeake's fracking has been a frequent target.
A new Sierra Club executive director said he stopped taking McClendon's money when he learned about it after taking office in 2010.
At the University of North Texas' College of Public Affairs and Community Service, the public administration department offers courses in nonprofit management.
Professor and department Chairman Bob Bland said because nonprofits are so diverse, there are no uniformly accepted guidelines for screening donors.
"It really has to depend on its own principles," Bland said. A nonprofit can lose support quickly, he said, if it does not steer competently through "the politics of the marketplace."
For Komen, part of the strategy has been to review sponsors' product tie-in proposals for possible breast cancer links.
The organization has a medical and scientific affairs staff that looks at the available information and makes a recommendation.
A separate scientific advisory board, made up mostly of cancer researchers, screens research grant applications and counsels Komen on scientific findings on breast cancer.
Rader, the Komen communications director, said many product proposals have a natural link to Komen's mission.
American Airlines, which has eight planes adorned with the pink ribbon, is a major sponsor of research on rare but fast-growing types of breast cancer. Yoplait yogurt helps reach the Spanish-speaking.
New Balance athletic shoes support a Komen marathon.
Komen's website says the organization is not accepting any partnership proposals from industries that already have a Komen sponsor — American Airlines, for example, is the only airline that can sign up.
The ban also includes two kinds of enterprises: alcoholic beverages and firearms.
"Let's say somebody comes to us and says, 'We want to sell pink martinis and raise money for you,' " Rader said. "We'll say no because alcohol has a proven link to breast cancer."
Alcohol metabolizes to acetaldehyde, a chemical linked to cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum, liver and female breast. Evidence links excessive alcohol consumption to cancer but moderate consumption to a reduced risk of heart disease.
A firearms company's "pink handgun" offer, widely reported as a Komen tie-in, was not authorized by Komen and was repudiated by the group.
The Georgia-Pacific products on Komen's list, bathroom tissue and paper napkins, don't cause cancer. But in 2010, Georgia-Pacific plants emitted nearly 666,000 pounds of acetaldehyde.
The emissions came from 18 plants in 10 states.
Other carcinogenic emissions in recent years include benzene, chloroform, epichlorohydrin and nickel compounds.
A documentary titled "Cancer Risks for Koch Profits," part of filmmaker Robert Greenwald's Koch Brothers Exposed project, alleges that emissions from a Georgia-Pacific plant in Crossett, Ark., caused numerous cancer cases.
"The Koch brothers are killing me and my family," Crossett resident Norma Thompson says in the film, which highlights David Koch's $500 million search for a cancer cure and challenges him to examine his own companies.
Guest, the Georgia-Pacific spokesman, said the documentary came from "a very, very slanted filmmaker" with a clear political motive.
"I can't speak to erroneous and false claims from some filmmaker that are out there on the Web," he said. "What I can say is that all of our operations operate in compliance with all the regulations that apply."
Long before the chemical industry's attempt to keep formaldehyde off the government's carcinogens list, Koch Industries worked to influence public policy — a practice that has made Koch a lightning rod for critics.
Federal reports say Koch Industries and Georgia-Pacific have spent $77.1 million on Washington, D.C., lobbying since 2002. The total does not include other Koch-owned companies.
Despite controversies, corporate partnerships continue to be a key part of Komen's strategy.
"We look at what they can do beyond just giving us money," Rader said. "It has to be a win for the company, a win for us and a win for the consumer."