Saturday, April 22, 2006

Klein's Exercise in Stem Cell Sophistry

California stem cell Chairman Robert Klein says he has no control over the $1 million gala to raise funds for the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

Balderdash. If Klein gave the word, the fundraiser would be called off tomorrow. The sponsoring agency, the San Francisco Foundation, would not make this effort without the full support of CIRM.

Klein's sophistry does not serve CIRM well. The agency is strapped. It needs money to perform its legitimate activities. It is legal for it to participate in fundraising efforts such as the gala. So why not say so from the start and offer to disclose the names of all the donors.

California voters approved the creation of CIRM, an unprecedented agency with built-in conflicts of interest outside of the usual control of either the legislative or executive branches of government. Its budget, for example, is untouchable by either the governor or the legislature. No other state department enjoys that position.

Like it or not, California must live with the reality of its stem cell creation. Sure there are ethical questions about raising funds from potential beneficiaries of CIRM grants, but state government is riddled with such conflicts to a greater or lesser degree. The chief example is campaign fundraising by officeholders from the governor down. Other than trusting the good judgment of the governor, senators and others, the only way to be sure the public interest is protected is let the sun shine on governmental affairs, particularly those of CIRM. In a word, disclosure.

Klein wrote about the fundraiser in a letter to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights of Santa Monica, Ca., which is mightily disturbed by the gala and which protested the involvement of Klein and two other CIRM officials as honorary chairmen of the fundraiser.

Klein said,
"I would like to clarify that Dr. Hall, Dr. Penhoet, nor I have any fiscal responsibility, control or decision-making authority over the gala event."
The response did not satisfy John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the foundation. He replied to Klein,
"You have placed yourselves in an unseemly position that undermines CIRM's integriy and troubles all of us who believe in stem cell research and good government.
"The three of you shold resign from the gala committee. There should be no 'private scientific briefings.' The names of the donors and amounts of donations must be released publicly before CIRM accepts money from the gala. In addition, fundraising activities need to be fully discussed in public at ICOC meetings when they are proposed. You will find that a number of ICOC members share my concern about this fundraising event."
Simpson asks a great deal. But that is his job. Now it is CIRM's job to do something to remove the taint on the event and the public agency itself.

Here is the link to Klein's letter and the Foundation's.
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