Thursday, October 01, 2020

Los Angeles Times Opposes $5.5 Billion Stem Cell Ballot Measure, Says State Has Higher Priorities

California's largest circulation newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, this morning editorialized against Proposition 14, the $5.5 billion stem cell measure on this fall's ballot, declaring that the state has "other, more urgent spending priorities."

The Times said,

"Now is not the time for a huge new investment in specialized medical research. First, it makes sense to wait until after the election; if Democrats do well, there should be growing support for embryonic stem-cell research at the federal level, which is where such funding should take place. 

"The future of California’s pandemic-battered economy and budget remains to be seen. Waiting also would give voters a chance to find out how well the state’s stem-cell research projects continue without state dollars, and whether some of the promising advances lead to breakthrough therapies and a return on California’s investment."

The Times claims a daily readership of 1.3 million and a combined print and online local weekly audience of 4.6 million.

The Times is the fifth daily newspaper to oppose Proposition 14. The initiative would save the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), as the agency is formally known, from financial extinction. It is running out of the $3 billion it was provided with in 2004 and will begin closing its doors this winter without a major infusion of cash.  

The Times editorial discussed Proposition 14 and the history of the agency in some detail and the role of its sponsor, Robert Klein, a Palo Alto real estate developer. 

Klein sponsored and was responsible for the drafting of Proposition 14 and the ballot initiative that created the stem cell agency in 2004, He ran the campaign then and is doing so again this year. He was the first chairman of the CIRM governing board and served for 6 1/2 years. He also contributed millions of dollars to both ballot measure campaigns. 

The Times wrote, 

"Klein’s role and the bloated structure of CIRM’s super-sized governing board have given rise to some serious ethical mishaps, including a board member who improperly intervened to try to get funding for his organization. (He is no longer on the board.) After this and several other examples of impropriety, rules were tightened. Board members must recuse themselves from votes when there is a conflict of interest, but with 29 members who all want certain projects to receive funding, there is too much potential for mutual back-scratching. Instead of repairing this problem, the new proposition would expand CIRM’s board to 35 members and retain its troubling independence from oversight by the governor and Legislature, leaving it open to further conflicts of interest.

"Proposition 71 hasn’t yet yielded a significant financial return on investment for the state — or the cures that were ballyhooed at the time. Though no one ever promised quick medical miracles, campaign ads strongly implied they were around the corner if only the funding came through. Proponents oversold the initiatives and voters can’t be blamed if they view this new proposal with skepticism."

The Times noted a number of lingering issues involving the agency, including the size of its 29-member board and the fact that members "generally have ties to the advocacy organizations and research institutions that have received most of the money." (For more on that subject, see here.)

The Times credited CIRM with giving "rise to a burst of scientific discovery." It said that CIRM has supported "promising advances in the treatment of diabetes,  'bubble boy' immune deficiency and vision-robbing retinitis pigmentosa, but other efforts have fallen short in clinical trials." The editorial also said CIRM made "the state the 'it' place for stem-cell research."

Unlike other newspaper editorials, the Times suggested that backers of the agency could come back in a couple of years with a revised, scaled-down proposal that would address issues with the agency.  The agency will still be operating during that period on a minimal level, administering multi-year grants with a skeleton staff.

The Times wrote, 

"There would be an opportunity to rethink and rewrite any future proposals, which should include a far more modest ask of taxpayers as well as fixes to the structure and inflated size of the CIRM board. The institute should also be placed under the same state oversight as other agencies reporting to the governor.

"If CIRM needs money for a basic operating budget over the next couple of years, that could be covered by the state’s general fund. The agency still needs to administer already-funded projects and could use that time to discuss a more affordable path forward. Right now, the state has other, more urgent spending priorities." 

For more on the life and times of the stem cell agency, Klein and issues involving the agency, see David Jensen's new book, "California's Great Stem Cell Experiment: Inside a $3 Billion Search for Stem Cell Cures."  Jensen has covered the agency since 2005 and written more than 5,000 items on the subject plus a number of freelance articles for Capitol Weekly, The Sacramento Bee, and other publications.

(Editor's note: Our count of newspaper editorials pro and con shows six with five against and one in support. They include the Times, Chronicle, Bakersfield Californian, San Jose Mercury, Santa Rosa Press Democrat and the Bay Area Reporter. If you know of others, pro and con, please email 

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:50 PM

    Excellent reporting by veteran journalist David Jensen on the latest editorial. I'll look forward (hopefully tomorrow) on what DJ thinks is the impact, or lack of impact, this and other newspaper editorials have on the outcome of this and other ballot measures (if ever).


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