Santa Monica, CA — California’s Fair Political Practices Commission today agreed to investigate a conflict of interest complaint against stem cell board member John Reed, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) said.
The non-partisan, non-profit consumer advocacy organization filed the complaint two weeks ago against Reed who is also president of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, because he improperly intervened seeking to overturn a staff rejection of a grant to his institution. Word that the FPPC would investigate FTCR’s complaint came in a telephone call from the commission.
“The stem cell board would be best served if Reed simply resigned,” said John M. Simpson, FTCR’s Stem Cell Project director. Simpson has also called for stem cell committee Chairman Robert Klein to step aside as chairman of the oversight board.
Two weeks after the revelation of the Reed affair, additional conflict of interest violations came to light when the stem cell agency tossed out ten applications for research grants because other board members had written letters in their support.
“Klein got the stem cell agency off the ground with great entrepreneurial spirit,” said Simpson. “However, he has never understood that the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is a state agency. It’s time he passed the torch to someone who understands. CIRM is not a private foundation and cannot be run as if it were.”
After the Reed case surfaced and FTCR filed its complaint, State Controller John Chiang announced plans to audit the agency and also called for an FPPC investigation.
At its meeting on Wednesday in Los Angeles the oversight board will consider awarding up to $85 million in grants aimed at faculty members just starting their independent research careers. The grants in question could total $3 million each over five years.
While stressing that the best course for Reed would be to resign, Simpson said at a minimum the Burnham executive and his representative to the board in his absence, Jeannie Fontana, should be barred from taking part in any stem cell board deliberations while the FPPC probe continues.
FTCR also said the stem cell agency should disclose which board members’ actions led to the rejection of the ten young faculty award applications.
“Failure to act promptly and appropriately to restore the public’s trust can only damage the institute,” said Simpson. “The members of the oversight board are intelligent people. I cannot fathom their propensity to keep shooting themselves in the foot.”
Proposition 71, passed by 59 percent of Californians in 2004, created an oversight board fraught with potential conflicts of interest. “Most of the people handing out the money are the very same people from the institutions that get the money,” said Simpson. “That means the conflict rules in place must be strictly adhered to and there must be consequences when they are violated. ‘Golly, we meant well and will do better next time’ simply does not cut it.”
FTCR’s Stem Cell Oversight and Accountability Project is working to ensure that California’s landmark stem cell research program offers accessible and affordable cures and treatments to the taxpayers who have funded it. The program will award $3 billion in grants over a decade. Bond financing charges mean the project, the largest source of stem cell research funding in the world, will cost California taxpayers $6 billion.
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