As sexual assault allegations swirl around Donald Trump, a leading national women’s group is calling on women’s health foundations to sever ties with Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, which many of the organizations have regularly used for fundraisers.
“I would strongly urge that the organizations reschedule their events,” Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told STAT. NOW’s political action committee has endorsed Hillary Clinton. “I would also say that at the very least, ensure Donald Trump personally would not be around when the event takes place, because women are at risk.”
A handful of organizations, including Susan G. Komen, a breast cancer advocacy group, have fundraisers scheduled at Mar-a-Lago in the coming months. Those groups said they currently plan to continue with this season’s events, but some might rethink the future of their relationship with the club.
“If we did anything other than Mar-a-Lago, we couldn’t raise as much money,” said Paula Henderson, director of special events and communications for the Bethesda Hospital Foundation, whose “Women of Grace” luncheon at Mar-a-Lago is scheduled two days after the election.
Allegations that Trump made unwanted sexual overtures toward some women, in some cases groping them, have left many women’s groups facing a dilemma. While the hosting of events at Mar-a-Lago may have little connection to Trump’s politics, he owns the club and profits from events hosted there.
Even in the absence of the allegations, Trump has been assailed for a series of remarks over women’s appearances during the campaign. Among female voters, Hillary Clinton is a strong favorite.
NOW’s call for women’s groups to sever ties to Mar-a-Lago is likely to intensify pressure on organizations like Susan G. Komen, which is planning an event at the Florida club in January.
Komen has held their annual “Perfect Pink Party” at Mar-a-Lago since 2011, and Trump has attended throughout the years. The AP reported today that the party is still planned for January 2017, and that the organization won’t make a final decision about whether to go ahead — or cancel and lose the deposit — until after October. Komen spokesperson Andrea Rader declined to comment beyond the AP story.
The AP also reported that two alleged instances of Trump touching women inappropriately occurred at Mar-a-Lago.
Board members at the women’s organizations contacted by STAT over the past week said that the choice of venue is not a political statement.
Fern Fodiman, board president of Hearing the Ovarian Cancer Whisper, which has an event planned in January at the club, called Trump’s words “despicable” but said that the organization’s choice of Mar-a-Lago “really has nothing to do with Donald Trump as a politician. It’s strictly a venue for our event.”
Henderson said that she wouldn’t choose to have her wedding at Mar-a-Lago, but as for the luncheon: “Ultimately, it is a fundraiser, and that’s our main goal.”
Susan G. Komen board member John Raffaelli also distanced his organization’s choice of venue from politics.
“Charitable organizations really don’t want to be in the middle of politics, they really don’t,” Raffaelli said. “They try really hard. When they screw up and find themselves in the middle of it, it’s an accident and not an intentional act, like this one.”
Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, said that such responses are “avoiding the issue.”
“Mar-a-Lago is so closely associated with Donald Trump and the Trump hotels and the Trump brand, that when Mr. Trump himself is at the center of a storm around his admitted words [about women] and the accounts of his behavior, it is political, whether the organizations like it or not,” Pearson said.
Pearson said that health-related organizations should not involve anyone in their fundraising efforts if that person’s behavior runs counter to the organization’s mission. And sexual assault is a health issue.
But Pearson understands the difficult situation. “My heart goes out to them if they try to break their contracts with Mr. Trump,” she said, laughing.