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Text of Comments on Awards to Stem Cell Directors’ Institutions

Posted: September 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Here is the full text of comments made
by the California stem cell agency, Joe Mathews, co-author of
California Crack-Up” and Bob Stern, former president of the
Center for Governmental Studies and co-author of the California
Political Reform Act
, in connection with the Sept. 23, 2012, article
in The Sacramento Bee headlined “Stem Cell Cash Mostly Aids Directors' Interests.” The comments were abbreviated for
publication in The Bee because of newspaper space constraints.

Comments by Alan Trounson, president of

“To make sure we do the best job of
managing taxpayer's money it's natural that we turn to people who
know most about stem cells and stem cell research. In fact, as the
state's own Little Hoover Commission reported in its analysis of
CIRM: “The fact that CIRM funding has gone largely to prestigious
California universities and research institutes is hardly surprising
and should be expected, given the goals of Proposition 71 and the
considerable expertise resident in these research centers.” But in
recruiting the best minds, we also adopt best practices to ensure
that there is no conflict of interest. Every board member has to
recuse themselves from voting on, or even being part of a discussion
on anything to do with their own institution, or to an institution or
company that they have any connections to. All this is done in
meetings that are open to the public. CIRM’s conflict of interest
rules have been subject to multiple reviews – by the Bureau of
State Audits, the Little Hoover Commission and the Controller – and
there is no evidence that any of CIRM’s funding decisions have been
driven by conflicts of interest. Indeed, CIRM rigorously enforces its
conflict of interest rules at each stage of the funding process to
ensure that all decisions are made on the merits of the proposal for
funding and not as a result of any conflicts of interest. 

“In addition all funding applications
are reviewed by an independent panel of scientists on our Grants
Working Groups, all of whom are out-of-state and meet strict conflict
of interest requirements, and it is their recommendations that help
guide the ICOC (CIRM governing board) on what to fund.”

Joe Mathews' comments:

“California ballot initiatives are a
terrible way to make public policy. And they are even worse as a
method for making scientific policy. 

“It's not merely that
this initiative was drafted in such a way as to benefit the
enterprises of its directors. It's that, under this initiative's own
provisions and the California constitution, it's so hard to change
Proposition 71 and fix what ails CIRM. Effectively, these provisions are
baked in, and nothing short of another vote of people can really make
the change. (Yes, there are provisions, as you know, that permit the
legislature by super-majority to do things, but supermajorities are
effectively out of reach in California). 

“Sadly, initiatives
like Proposition 71 are not uncommon. Many measures are drafted to benefit
the people who would support the measure, or oversee the program
established. This has been very common with bonds. Essentially, to
win the support of various groups whose money and backing is
important to passage of a bond, a sponsor of an initiative bond will
set up rules and include money specifically intended for each group.
This is a form of pay-to-play. Agree to back the initiative and
you're in. And it happens because there's no rule against it and
because passing initiatives in California require difficult,
expensive campaigns. 

“And this sort of thing will continue
to happen. There is no serious push to do anything about this.
Indeed, good government groups and reformers in California have
opposed changes to the initiative process -- because they want to use
the process for their own schemes.”

Bob Stern's comments:

“It would have been better had
institutions receiving grants not to have had their representatives
on the board awarding grants. On the other hand, we want to have the
most knowledgeable people on the board overseeing this very important
program. The question: Were these people the only qualified ones to
sit on the board?”


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