Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Controller Calls for Online Posting of Financial Holdings of CIRM Officials

California's top fiscal officer wants to see posted on the Internet the statements of economic interests and travel and other expense forms of the top officials of the state's $3 billion stem cell agency.

Controller John Chiang, who chairs the committee that oversees CIRM's financial practices, will soon call a meeting of the panel to discuss how to implement the postings.

Chiang's plan would cover the 29-member CIRM board of directors, its executive staff and the members of the financial practices panel, which is officially called the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee (CFAOC).

Chiang's move follows the lead of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who posts his top staff's economic interest statements and expenses on the Web. On April 2, we wrote about governor's postings and recommended the practice as something to be emulated by CIRM.

Internet publication of CIRM's information came up April 14 at a meeting of the CFAOC. Ruth Holton-Hodson, deputy controller for health and consumer policy, was filling for Chiang, who was ill.

According to the transcript, she said,
"The public is naturally very concerned about transparency, especially in these times when it comes to spending public dollars and potential conflicts of interest that might arise."
She noted that Chiang will be offering online the financial information for himself and his staff.

Posting the information serves the public well. But it is also healthy for CIRM, an agency that is riddled with built-in conflicts of interest, perhaps more so than any other state department.

The CIRM board of directors is dominated by folks from the institutions that have been the chief beneficiaries of CIRM´s largess. As of last October, 18 institutions with representatives on the board (past and present) had received $552 million in CIRM grants. More has been awarded since then. This week the CIRM board is expected to approve an additional $60 million in grants, most of which is likely to go to institutions connected to board members. Board members cannot vote on grants to their institutions, but the entire board sets the rules under which the grants are made and establishes the priorities for spending the billions of dollars.

Hallye Jordan, spokeswoman for Chiang, said a date has not yet been set for the meeting of the CFAOC to discuss implementing postings by CIRM. The subject will be the only item on the agenda.

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