Thursday, February 06, 2020

California Stem Cell Agency Okays Major, Publicly Financed Conference During Ballot Campaign for $5.5 Billion More

OAKLAND, Ca. -- California's financially strapped stem cell agency this morning approved a $250,000, two-day public conference on the state of stem cell research that would be held in the midst of a ballot campaign to provide the agency with an additional $5.5 billion from taxpayers.

The proposal was approved on a unanimous vote after a brief discussion. 

The conference is expected to be held prior to the Nov. 3 election involving the proposed, $5.5 billion measure. Details and location are yet to be worked out.

Known formally as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the agency was created by voters in 2004 who provided it with $3 billion in bond funding. It is now down to its last $27 million for awards. The agency has additional cash to continue its administrative operations this year and wind down later if the proposed ballot initiative fails to win approval.

CIRM has held a number of large, public events over its 15-year life to bring together scientists and the public as part of its public information efforts to report on its activities and encourage collaboration among researchers. The conference approved today falls in that category, the agency says. 

The meeting, however, is likely to be targeted, sooner or later, by opponents of the agency as an improper use of public funds. The state has legal restrictions on use of public funds during ballot campaigns that involve many gray areas. But normal public information efforts are permitted. 

No member of the public spoke today against the conference, which was available live online and at a number of public teleconference locations throughout the state.  

The agency told the California Stem Cell Report earlier this week, 
"CIRM has conducted four grantee meetings since the agency’s inception.  These meetings are opportunities for grantees to share information about their progress, discuss bottlenecks in the field, and identify potential partnership opportunities.  This grantee meeting will be no different.  The meeting will comply with state laws governing the use of public funds in connection with ballot measure campaigns and will not include any advocacy for or against the ballot measure."
The CIRM conference proposal said that the public, CIRM grantees, interested funding organizations, patient advocates and stakeholders would be invited to the two-day session. An estimated 300-400 participants are expected. CIRM said the goals of the meeting are to:
  • "Provide a public forum to learn about the most recent advances in stem cell research in California.
  • "Encourage the sharing of information and data among CIRM grantees to foster collaboration and learning. 
  • "Timely presentations to address and overcome key bottlenecks and challenges in the field to help advance existing projects. 
  • "Showcase promising stem cell-based projects for partnership opportunities with investors, funders, or companies."
James Harrison, former general counsel to the agency and a well-known expert on campaign law, briefed the CIRM board last fall on the complex restrictions that surface during campaigns. He said, 
"Communications about a ballot measure should be delivered through CIRM’s ordinary communication methods, like its website, blog, newsletter, emails to interested persons, and public meetings, in the style CIRM normally uses to communicate other information. CIRM should avoid passionate or inflammatory language and modes of communication that it does not regularly employ, and should not encourage voters to vote in a particular manner." 
Harrison drafted portions of the 2004 initiative that created the agency. He was also heavily involved in drafting the current proposed initiative. 

2 comments:

  1. Great! I hope they invite me! Our iPSC-based neuron replacement therapy for Parkinson's disease is moving quickly to the clinic. I have had a lot of CIRM grants...still have one.

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  2. Anonymous9:32 AM

    $250,000 two days, $125,000 per day for "public information efforts." Baloney X 2.

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