Saturday, March 10, 2007

Robert Klein's Unseemly Position

The PR drums are beginning to sound for next Friday's $80 million stem cell giveaway in Los Angeles.

This time the flashbulbs and lights will be for a Democrat – not a Republican. He is Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles. As you may recall, California's Republican governor appeared last month for the hoopla when the California stem cell agency awarded its first-ever research grants.

Interestingly, announcement of the "CIRM press event" came not from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine but on stemcellbattles.com, the blog of patient advocate Don Reed.
The announcement also carried the name of Amy Daly, executive director of Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures, which is the private lobbying organization headed by Robert Klein. Klein is also chair of the state stem cell agency, which is giving away the money next week – part of $3 billion in state funds that intends to hand out over 10 years.

No mention of the "CIRM press event" could be found Saturday on the CIRM web site. Of course, anyone can call a news conference. But it is in the same location as the meeting for the agency, the Harvey Morse Conference Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and would require the permission of that institution.

What does all this mean? It means continuing confusion about Klein and his role. Is he a lobbyist and private advocate for embryonic stem cell research? How does that fit with his role as a state employee and chair of the CIRM Oversight Committee? Can he separate those functions?

Last year, as head of the Americans group he denounced the leading voice for embryonic stem cell research in the state legislature as an "ongoing threat" to CIRM. The state agency, however, declined to comment on Klein's statement, saying he prepared it on his own time.

Klein has testified in court that he does not consider himself a state employee. In 2005, he refused to appear before the legislature for a hearing into issues involving CIRM. A millionaire businessman, he does not accept a salary as chair of the Oversight Committee.

Normally announcement of a news conference is aimed at notifying the news media for possible coverage. In the case of the announcement from Klein's lobbying group, it was aimed more at generating attendance by those would benefit from possible cures developed as the result of state-funded research. Their attendance provides better visuals and interviews for TV, radio and print reporters than the talking heads of state officials.

Building support for ESC research and generating news coverage for CIRM's work seems a worthwhile endeavor. But unseemly is a better word for Klein's current position astride both a state agency and the lobbying effort. Sphere: Related Content

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