Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Klein Confirms Resignation, Lobbying Connections Remain

The chairman of the California stem cell agency has personally confirmed that he has resigned as head of his personal stem cell lobbying group, Americans for Cures, which has been nearly silent on the subject since July 14.

Robert Klein's exit as president of the group came after it excoriated an influential California lawmaker on a widely read political blog, the Daily Kos.

Second-hand reports surfaced (the first on July 14) that he was resigning as president of the group, which shares the same address as his real estate investment firm as well as the same fax number.

Since then, Americans for Cures has not responded to repeated requests asking for confirmation of Klein's departure. Nor did Klein tell state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, object of the attack, that he was resigning, as he had said he would.

But Robert M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca., encountered Klein last week at the meeting of the CIRM Standards Working Group. Simpson said,
"I asked Klein what his status with the group was when I saw him on Friday. He said that he had resigned the night he learned about the Kos article and came back from vacation.

"I told him that his name was still on the website. He said he'd call them to have it removed."
Since then, the reference to Klein as president has been removed from the website by Americans for Cures, along with a list of all its directors.

On July 24, we wrote about Klein's failure to announce his resignation, commenting that the initial, second-hand reports may have amounted to some sort of trial balloon that Klein hoped would trigger calls for him to remain as head of Americans for Cures.

Don Gibbons
, chief communications officer for CIRM, today volunteered the following reaction to our trial balloon comment,
"The Americans for Cures web site has been corrected regarding the president. That theory you put forth on the issue goes beyond speculative paranoia."
With his resignation, Klein has recognized that his connections with Americans for Cures are not compatible with his role as a public servant and chairman of an agency that is giving away $3 billion of California taxpayer's money.

Klein's resignation, however, is less than a half-measure and does not even well serve his own best interests. If it is an attempt to distance himself from the organization, it falls far short. If he continues to serve on the board of directors of the lobbying group, if the group continues to share Klein's office fax number and address, if he continues to control hiring and policy and generate financing for the group, Klein remains accountable for whatever the group does. Particularly for any actions that do not coincide with the best interests of the people of California or CIRM.

Klein volunteered for his role at CIRM and has not been paid for his work for nearly three years, which is all to his credit. Would that more California businessmen and women donate their time and energy to help solve some of society's difficult problems.

But when Klein accepted his job as a public servant, other activities became incompatible. One of those is directing a lobbying group that operates in the same area as CIRM.

As we reported earlier, Klein's dual roles represent an inherent conflict of interest. It is as if a high level executive with the California Medical Association also served on the state Medical Board. It is impossible to know whether their official actions represent their own views or the views of the special interest group.

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