Friday, June 10, 2011

CIRM Headed for Another Federal Lobbying Effort

After an abortive attempt in 2009, the $3 billion California stem cell agency is moving forward once again with a significant commitment – for CIRM – in the lobbying game in Washington, D.C.

Yesterday the directors' Finance Subcommittee indicated that it favored spending $180,000 during the coming fiscal year to hire a lobbyist, which would make CIRM one of the rare California agencies with its own federal advocate. The move comes at a time when Gov. Jerry Brown is slashing the Washington lobbying office for the entire financially troubled state from six persons to two.

The CIRM directors' committee did not have a quorum so it could not vote, said Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, but he said that the committee informally supported the proposal by outgoing CIRM Chair Robert Klein and co-vice chair Art Torres, a former state lawmaker. The plan will go to the full board later this month in San Diego.

Two years ago, CIRM hired a flamboyant but well-connected lobbyist, Tony Podesta, for $240,000 for 10 months work. The latest public accounting shows that he was ultimately paid less than $21,000. Klein began that lobbying effort only after debate about mission creep at CIRM and whether CIRM could really make a difference on issues where it is only a tiny, tiny player.

In a memo made available to the public only yesterday, CIRM noted that the directors' Legislative Subcommittee on Monday voted to oppose patent "reform" legislation now before Congress. The battle over the bill involves some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and has already resulted in millions of dollars in lobbying expenditures by affected enterprises.

The CIRM memo said the bill and other federal proposals
"...could have a substantial impact on CIRM’s mission, ranging from a bill that would fundamentally change U.S. patent law to a bill that would support regenerative medicine through funding for research and commercial development of regenerative medicine products and development of a regulatory environment that enables rapid approval of safe and effective products."

"In addition, the Sherley v. Sebelius litigation, regardless of outcome, is likely to lead to
additional efforts by opponents or proponents of human embryonic stem cell research to push legislation regarding federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research."
The memo continued,
"To ensure that the chair and vice chairs have the support necessary to keep abreast of new developments and to protect and advance CIRM’s interests, it is critical that CIRM have the support of a government relations firm in Washington, D.C."
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