Friday, July 10, 2020

Saving CIRM: $5.5 Billion Ballot Campaign, Rhetoric and Winning

The campaign to save California's financially strapped stem cell research agency said this week that voter approval of a $5.5 billion rescue measure "has never been more important to the future of California’s health care, for the patients and their families, than it is now."

The pitch came in an opinion piece carried on the Capitol Weekly online news service. The article appears to be the first "op-ed" piece that the campaign has placed since qualifying the ballot initiative, Proposition 14

The article carried the byline of Robert Klein, chairman of the campaign effort, Californians for Stem Cell Research. Klein is the Palo Alto real estate developer who led the 2004 ballot campaign and directed the writing of the original initiative as well as the current one. He also was the first chairman of the agency, known officially as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). 

Klein's article echoed rhetoric from the campaign web site, in some cases using identical phrasing, which is to be expected.  He wrote,
"CIRM funding has advanced research and therapy development for more than 75 different diseases and conditions, more than 90 clinical trials, more than 1,000 medical projects at 70 institutions across California and nearly 3,000 published medical discoveries. This investment has already saved and improved lives, including a high school student who was paralyzed in a diving accident and was able to regain function in his upper body and go on to college, a mother who went blind from a genetic disease has had some of her eyesight restored, two FDA-approved cancer treatments are already saving lives, and many more."
Klein's campaign piece pushed the envelope in some cases. One example is the mention of "more than 90 clinical trials." The agency itself only claims 64. The key to Klein's figure of 90 is the phrasing "CIRM funding has advanced ... more than 90 clinical trials." That is a different criteria than used by the agency. Klein is basing his figure on any kind of research connected in any way to any kind of trial. 

Klein's number of 90 has also climbed from 80 just 16 days ago.  

Additionally, Klein's claims in his article for the agency's economic benefits are based on studies that the agency itself has paid for as opposed to independent, third party analyses. The most recent example came last fall; the study cost CIRM $206,000. 

The 2004 campaign that established the agency was widely criticized for its hype. Most ballot campaigns can be criticized on the same grounds. However, none have dealt with science in the way that Proposition 14 does. But Klein's job is to win approval of the proposal. Without a victory in the fall, CIRM will begin to close its doors. 

California voters can expect to see more rhetoric like Klein's over the next three months or so, intensifying significantly in October. The same sort of rhetoric is  already coming from the opposition and can be more extreme. As the ChurchMilitant web site said on June 29
"California state officials have confirmed a ballot initiative that, if approved, would give a state biomedical agency $5.5 billion to kill human embryos in order to extract their stem cells."
All this -- Klein's envelope-pushing and opponents' emotional, religious screeds -- is part of the way ballot campaigns work in California. Cautious, deliberative discussions cannot be expected to carry the day for the partisans on both sides. It is war with a deadline. 

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