Monday, February 17, 2020

The California Stem Cell Campaign for $5.5 Billion More Mounts a Web Site, Hires PR firm

The ballot campaign to pump an additional $5.5 billion into California's stem cell stem cell agency is now moving briskly and has a web site plus a well-known public relations firm that has handled more than 20 other ballot measures in the Golden State. 

The campaign has also spent $1 million, which is a tiny amount given that the campaign could cost upwards of $50 million, give or take some millions. The latest campaign disclosure statement shows that it had a zero balance as of Dec. 31 last year. 

The state stem cell agency is running out of the $3 billion originally approved by voters via a 2004 ballot measure. If the new ballot initiative is not approved in November, the agency is expected to whither and die. Its only significant source of cash has been the $3 billion in state bonds. 

The campaign web site is called "Californians for Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures." It carries a list of 43 organizations that it says support the ballot initiative, which has not yet qualified for the ballot. 

The groups range from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, an industry lobbying group in Washington, D.C., and the Loving Mind Institute, which deals with mental and addiction issues,  to the Arthritis Foundation and the International Society for Stem Cell Research, the largest organization of stem cell researchers in the world. 

Also listed as supporters are patient advocates, scientists and private parties. They include luminaries such as Nobel Prize winner David Baltimore. He served on the board of the stem cell agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) from 2004 until June 6, 2007. 

Baltimore was also a co-founder and chairman of the board of a firm backed with millions by the stem cell agency. The firm, Calimmunewas incorporated March 23, 2006, in Delaware.  The firm has received $8.3 million from CIRM. Calimmune's initial award came as part of a $20 million award on Oct. 28, 2009.   Calimmune was sold to CSL Behring in 2017 for $91 million. 

(See herehere and here for more on Calimmune.)

A number of current board members of the stem cell agency are also listed by the campaign as supporters. The board has not yet taken a formal position on the initiative, but there is little doubt that it will support the proposal. Other supporters include a number of researchers who have received CIRM funding. 

The campaign web site features "success stories" in CIRM program, all of which have been carried earlier on the official CIRM web site. The campaign site asks for donations as low as $5 via credit cards. It contains a list of five stories and columns that are favorable to the agency, covering the period from 2016 to last month.

The campaign has also hired a well-known California public relations firm, Fiona Hutton and Associates, which has offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Hutton was involved in the 2004 stem cell campaign as well. 

Hutton's main web page promises "communications that shake up things and move mountains."

The American Association of Political Consultants says that Hutton is "one of only two women-owned businesses ranked in the Top 10 of national public affairs agencies and the Top 10 Los Angeles-based firms by leading PR trade publication O’Dwyer’s."

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