Elie Dolgin/Nature photo
Klein's donation triggered a number of special favors from the agency, according to documents provided by CIRM to the California Stem Cell Report under a state Public Records Act request. Klein wanted to meet with the six science officers, who have a wide range of responsibilities, including managing and developing grant and loan programs, participating in reviews of applications and evaluating research progress. CIRM President Alan Trounson obliged. At the meeting in Japan, the six science officers received a memo approved by Trounson instructing them to meet privately “one-on-one” with their benefactor and to give him special access to their activities. The meetings were actually scheduled to also include a third person, Rob McEwen, who is one of the 100 richest persons in Canada, a $20 million donor to a stem cell center in Toronto and CEO of the gold mining company bearing his name.
“No, the two items are entirely separate with no connection. Item 1 involved Bob Klein making a donation to allow science officers to attend a critically important scientific meeting on stem cell research. The science officers had originally planned on attending but then were told they could not because of cuts in our out-of-state travel budget – Bob Klein’s donation, without using state funds, enabled the science officers to attend. Item 2 is an ICOC (board) decision to fund a research project that they felt had promise and was important for the people of California.”
Prior to leaving CIRM in 2011, Klein was a non-voting member of the CIRM grant review committee, which consists of out-of-state scientists and seven CIRM board members. His service on the committee included the period when it approved a planning grant for StemCells, Inc., to prepare its application for the $20 million.
Klein noted that he did not pick the six science officers for the Japan trip. One of them was the lead science officer on the award round involving StemCells, Inc. A second was also heavily involved, according to the transcript of the July 2012 board meeting. Science officers, however, do not vote on or score applications. Klein characterized the CIRM staff as recommending against approval of the grant so “they were clearly not influenced” by his donation.
Klein defended the involvement of McEwen, who Klein said has contributed to the stem cell group conducting the meeting. Klein said McEwen does not engage in technical discussions and added,
“On a conceptual basis it was important for him to understand the spectrum of medical advances towards therapies. His additional contributions to Canadian non-profits could assist Canada in collaborating with California on more international research, with California only funding the research done in California and the donor helping to fund the research done in Canada. No specific grant applications were discussed. Finally, the discussion with the international partners focuses on the funding process and funding collaboration it does not discuss any individual.”
“It just looks unseemly — a pack of lobbyists and other favor-seekers paying big bucks to traipse after the governor, schmoozing and gaining invaluable access.”
“They're donating because they want to curry favor with the incumbent administration."