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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)