FACT CHECK: Do Olive Garden restaurants donate money to Planned Parenthood?
Claim: Olive Garden restaurants donate money to Planned Parenthood.
Examples: [Collected via Twitter, July 2015]
— hotpink (@hotpink100) July 21, 2015
— ConservativeOutreach (@conservoutreach) July 21, 2015
Olive Garden restaurants fund Planned Parenthood: think of the skulls they crush with that money, next time u chew an olive there...
— Christian Tea Party (@ChristianTParty) July 21, 2015
— Joe American (@MidAmericanGuy) July 22, 2015
Origins: Beginning on 14 July 2015, a controversy involving Planned Parenthood dominated conversation topics on social media. Among the rumors that were subsequently circulated about Planned Parenthood was the claim that Olive Garden restaurants (or their parent company, Darden) is currently donating (or had previously donated) money to Planned Parenthood.
The claim about Olive Garden donating to Planned Parenthood was not new:
— Ms. B. (@msbeeee) June 18, 2009
— LifeLetters, Julia (@lifeletterj) August 8, 2011
Since Olive Garden is a corporate sponsor of Planned Parenthood, I think they should serve unlimited breadsticks in the waiting room.
— Liza (@thelizakate) October 5, 2011
Examples of the rumor concerning Olive Garden and Planned Parenthood were abundant, but tracking a definitive source documenting its claim was another matter entirely. Many people who repeated it cited a March 2012 "boycott list" published on the anti-abortion web site Life News, but that list offered zilch in the way of any proof that Olive Garden (or any of the other companies listed on it) actually supported Planned Parenthood. What's more, that years-old list didn't even describe how it came to the conclusion that any of the companies it listed currently or previously donated funds to Planned Parenthood.
Other critics cited a 2012 article published on the site XOJane urging its readers to patronize businesses that supported Planned Parenthood, in which Olive Garden was also mentioned. However, that XOJane article cited the 2011 Life News article, which made near-identical claims about companies supporting Planned Parenthood without providing any documentation for them.
The 2011 Life News article included an assertion by anti-abortion group Life Decisions International (LDI) suggesting that companies frequently hide evidence of their donations to Planned Parenthood:
We learned early on that corporate leaders will turn to devious methods to continue supporting Planned Parenthood. For example, one corporation had donated $5,000 to the pro-abortion group every year since 1991. After becoming a boycott target, the corporation donated $25,000 and for four years told consumers they do not support Planned Parenthood. Therefore, do not be surprised if a corporation responds that it is no longer supporting Planned Parenthood.
Such statements create an unreachable standard of proof for those wishing to verify this type of claim, suggesting that corporate denials are insufficient evidence while offering no proof of their own assertions. And since the primary purpose of such corporate donations is to generate goodwill by funding worthy causes and organizations, it would make little sense for a business to simultaneously support a given non-profit or charity while publicly denying any such beneficence.
Planned Parenthood's Annual Report for 2013 [PDF] is the most recent available and includes no specific mention of any donors. However, Olive Garden's Twitter account has replied to concerned customers about whether or not the company currently or previously supported Planned Parenthood:
@MidAmericanGuy We have never donated to them. We focus our giving on helping end hunger. Last yr we gave 3+ MM lbs of food to food banks.
— Olive Garden (@olivegarden) July 22, 2015
For those who subscribe to the belief that a company might donate money and lie about it, the non-profit and non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) lists all Planned Parenthood donors as far back as 2010 (before LDI claimed in 2011 and 2012 that Olive Garden was among Planned Parenthood's supporters). In all the available data listed on CRP's web site, neither Olive Garden nor Darden Restaurants appears among Planned Parenthood donors.
That list, however, provided an amusing twist concerning tweets calling for a boycott of Olive Garden due to their purported support of Planned Parenthood: While no Darden Restaurants brands appeared on the list, Twitter was slotted at #48 among Planned Parenthood donors. So to remain ideologically pure, one would need to find an alternative social media site upon which to voice disapproval of Planned Parenthood — after all, those pro-boycott tweets are generating revenue for Twitter, a known supporter of Planned Parenthood.
On 23 July 2015, Olive Garden replied to a snopes.com query as to whether the chain (or Darden Restaurants) donated to Planned Parenthood:
Neither Olive Garden nor Darden Restaurants has ever donated to Planned Parenthood. Rather, our company strives to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others through programs such as Olive Garden Harvest. Through the Harvest program, every Olive Garden across the country donates fresh, wholesome food to a local food bank on a weekly basis. Last year, Olive Garden donated more than 3 million pounds of food to those in need.
Last updated: 23 July 2015
Originally published: 22 July 2015