Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Signature Drive Ends for $5.5 Billion California Stem Cell Initiative; Will it Qualify for the Ballot?

Backers of a $5.5 billion ballot initiative to save the California stem cell research program from financial extinction said today that they had finished their petition drive to qualify the measure for the November ballot and expressed confidence that they had the more than 600,000 signatures needed. 

The announcement came after the campaign had missed three of its self-imposed deadlines for collecting 950,000 signatures as well as the state-recommended deadline of April 21.  The campaign said that the petitions have been delivered to county election officials around the state for verification of the signatures, a lengthy process that must be completed by June 15. If the work is not finished by then, the measure will not appear on the ballot. 

The initiative needs 623,212 valid signatures to qualify. The campaign's news release today said it had 925,000, down from its goal of 950,000. However, disqualification rates can run as high as 50 percent. Early last month after its public signature-gathering was halted because of coronavirus restrictions, it said had only 915,000. The campaign then kicked off what it called an "unprecedented," Internet, mail-in campaign to solicit signatures.  Later it began a direct mail effort, also unusual for an initiative qualification drive. 

The stem cell agency was created in 2004 by another ballot initiative and financed with $3 billion in state borrowing. It is now running out of money and will begin closing down in the fall if substantial funding is not received. 

Robert Klein, chairman of the campaign, said he was "confident" that the campaign had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. He said, 
“Submitting signatures in time to qualify for the general election would not have been possible without our coalition of patient advocates, who banded together to help us
overcome the unprecedented challenge of signature gathering during a global pandemic – the effort is emblematic of our movement that has been widely supported and driven by patients and their families from the beginning”
Klein, who led the 2004 ballot campaign that created the agency, also cited the $5 million special, Covid-19, grant round now being conducted by the stem cell agency as example of the valuable work performed by the agency, officially known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

One of the recipients of  a $750,000 award in the covid round, John Zaia of the City of Hope, was quoted in the campaign news release as saying,  
“We could be on the brink of medical discoveries that could save the lives of patients impacted by Covid-19 and other diseases, and this research simply would not be possible without the initial investment Californians made in the state’s stem cell program in 2004.

“Now, it is absolutely critical that this investment is renewed, allowing researchers like myself to continue to discover treatments and cures that can improve or save the lives of patients today and for generations to come.”
The City of Hope and many other recipient institutions have had a seat on the CIRM governing board since its inception.  According to CIRM figures, the City of Hope has received $117 million in grants since 2005. Zaia has received $33 million. 

The process of verifying and counting signatures is tedious under normal circumstances. County officials are now further hampered by work-related restrictions created by the coronavirus crisis. 

It is not clear whether enough signatures can be verified by June 25. That's the state deadline for qualifying for the November ballot. Two other unrelated initiatives failed or were withdrawn yesterday, state election officials said. Ironically one of the proposals would have allowed for the gathering of signatures online as a way to speed the task. 

The campaign has removed from its web site the outdated information concerning its petition solicitation effort, including the phrase "time is running out," which ran on its home page. But here is a link to the petition page from April 22 as archived by the California Stem Cell Report:  


  1. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Verification by June 15? Pipe dream. Impossible. Start now for the next general election, concentrating on what has been accomplished.

  2. The next general election will be too late. The agency will be a financially bereft enterprise next year with no purpose other than monitoring the multi-year grants until they expire. Then it will become a dead letter in state law. And the agency's 29-member governing board is likely to outnumber its employees by three to one. But maybe not. Convince me.