Friday, January 27, 2006

CIRM Hires Sacramento Lobbyist for Another Three Months

The California stem cell agency has re-engaged a top Sacramento lobbyist to watch over its interests in the Capitol, where legislation is being considered that would have a major impact on its operations.

The contract with Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor was reported to the agency's Governance Subcommittee at a meeting this morning. The firm will be paid $7,500 a month for three months – with a one month extension – beginning Jan. 23.

Last year's contract (first reported by this blog) with the same firm stirred something of a flap, partly for the way it was handled and partly because it is unusual for a state agency to hire a private lobbyist. Virtually all major state agencies have internal lobbyists, which are euphemistically called "legislative units" or some other term.

While one can argue about the cost of the private lobbyist, CIRM needs to have an effective voice in the Capitol, both to communicate with legislators but also to advise the agency about navigating the legislative corridors. If CIRM had an effective lobbyist in place 12 months ago, it would have saved itself a lot of anguish. And it probably would have led to better policy from the beginning.

CIRM would be better served, however, if it could handle its legislative relations without a private lobbyist, but that is not likely to happen until its financial situation improves.

During today's meeting, Oversight Committee member Claire Pomeroy, dean of the UC Davis Medical School, said that communication between CIRM and the legislature "needs to be a high priority." But she also asked, "How are we going to monitor what we are getting for our money."

Stem cell chairman Robert Klein said he would ask Nielsen Merksamer for regular reports on its activities.

CIRM staff also reported that it has requested proposals from five accounting firms for an audit of the agency, as required by law. The audit is budgeted for $50,000. The agency is paying another $45,000 to the State Department of Justice in connection with the litigation against CIRM. And more is expected to be needed.

Here is a link to the agenda item involving the contracts and a summary of all contracts.

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