Chaired by California's top fiscal officer, Democrat John Chiang, the Citizens Financial Accountability Oversight Committee said that CIRM should post online the statements of economic interests of its directors and top executives, following the practice of both Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chiang himself.
“To ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent lawfully, wisely and successfully, the stem cell program must pursue the highest standards of transparency to be fully accountable to the public.”CIRM has all but ignored the recommendation. Instead, it has moved to prevent the committee from exercising more financial oversight of the state's unprecedented research operation.
In response to the controller's recommendation, the California Stem Cell Report is publishing online the statements of economic interest of the 29 directors of the stem cell agency along with those of some of the agency's top executives.
When Schwarzenegger announced his efforts at improving openness, he said,
“Transparency is fundamental to promoting efficiency and effectiveness in government and strengthening the democratic process by giving citizens enough information to reach their own conclusions about how their tax dollars are being spent.”Understanding and assessing the performance of the California stem cell agency is even more critical than with most other state enterprises. CIRM holds a unique and unprecedented place in state government. Created by a $30 million ballot initiative campaign, it is isolated from the normal financial oversight functions of the governor and legislature. Its stream of income – all borrowed money(state bonds) – cannot be touched, despite California's grave financial crisis.
At the same time, CIRM is riddled with built-in conflicts of interest. Its 29-member board is
heavily influenced by directors tied to institutions that are the beneficiaries of its largess. More than $900 million of the $1 billion-plus that directors have handed out has gone to enterprises with members on the board.
None of this is going to change any time in the near future. Which makes it all the more important for the public to understand who has what at stake when it comes to giving away billions of dollars.
You can find the statements of economic interest here. Here is a link to a state document that helps to explain the nature of the information. You can find the statements of economic interest for Chiang's stem cell oversight committee on his Web site. Here is a link to the transcript of the committee's meeting last January during which questions were raised about accountability and openness at CIRM. Here is a link to the transcript of a subsequent CIRM board meeting during which CIRM President Alan Trounson described (on p. 132) the discussion at Chiang committee meeting as a “strange critique” and “irrational attack.” Here is a link to a piece by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, who attended the meeting and wrote that the agency "has self-righteously fought every attempt to improve public oversight over its disbursement of what is, after all, the people's money."
(The statements of economic interest involving CIRM directors were provided via email by the agency at the request of the California Stem Cell Report, which the agency is required to do by law. They are also available via conventional mail from the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento and in person at both agencies.)