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$3 Billion Scamiversary

Monday May 5th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 7:05am PDT   •  

CIRM_200In 2004, California’s $3 billion Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, Proposition 71, promised life-saving cures and therapies for a host of afflictions. Voters approved the measure, which created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). Ten years later CIRM has spent nearly $2 billion, but as this report notes, “No cures have yet resulted from CIRM’s spending.” So on its own terms CIRM is a bust, and also something of a scam.

As this report notes, CIRM directed a full 91 percent of its research funding to institutions with representatives on its own governing board. Likewise, the CIRM board overruled the Institute’s own scientific reviewers, who twice rejected a proposal to fund a for-profit company on whose behalf CIRM founder Robert Klein had lobbied. The CIRM board went ahead and gave the money to the company anyway. Klein, a wealthy real-estate developer, wrote Proposition 71 to make himself chairman and in 2008 started paying himself $150,000.

CIRM also hired non-scientist Art Torres, a former state Democratic Party boss, and immediately tripled his salary to $225,000. CIRM pays president Alan Trounson $490,008, more than the President of the United States. Trounson is now leaving, and the new CIRM boss may bag more than $500,000 a year to head a wasteful state agency that has produced “no cures.” Even a supporter on the single state body that oversees CIRM says he would have a hard time voting for Proposition 71 again. One can’t blame him, but the measure offers educational value.

If taxpayers want to keep down the cost of government, they should be wary of any measure that, like Proposition 71, comes insulated from legislative oversight. Such measures are likely to channel money to supporters and their cronies, and provide a soft landing spot for washed-up politicians. Above all, taxpayers should be on guard for initiatives that wear a white coat and promise more than they can deliver. CIRM is a prime example of that. A ballpark figure for what it should get in future is zero.

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May 2014