Open-Government Advocates Call for Stem Cell Committee Members To Sell Holdings in Interests That Could Benefit From Initiative
Some advocates for open government are calling on members of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee -- charged with determining how to distribute funds for stem cell research available through Proposition 71 -- to sell any holdings in biomedical and real estate companies that could benefit from the funds, the Sacramento Bee reports (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 1/6).
Proposition 71, a measure approved on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, calls for California to issue bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for lab projects. The committee is responsible for distributing $3 billion in taxpayer-backed bonds for facilities and research over the next decade.
The new call from open-government advocates is part on ongoing stream of criticism from the advocates, who say the committee is not trying hard enough to conduct its affairs in public.
ICOC's first meeting on Dec. 17 made little progress after Attorney General Bill Lockyer's (D) office advised that the agenda be fundamentally altered because of opponents' claims that the meeting as structured would have violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act.
Critics -- including Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware -- and the Center for Genetics and Society, voiced similar concerns about the committee's meeting scheduled for Thursday.
Charles Halpern, a Berkeley public interest lawyer who filed a complaint with the attorney general's office about the first meeting, said the stated agenda for Thursday's meeting was "cryptic, vaguely worded and [did not] meet the requirements of the law." Halpern said the committee needs to make clear the kinds of research it plans to finance, to allow the public to assess whether the financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest provisions are adequate (California Healthline, 1/4).
Halpern and others also said that instead of forming subcommittees to find a president for the new stem cell research institute and to select working groups for grant recommendations, ICOC members should first "establish bylaws and conflict-of-interest policies" to "help assure taxpayers the grant money is funding research that could lead to cures for disease and not enriching committee members," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
"The committee is being invited to rush into the core of its work without having laid an appropriate foundation," Halpern said (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/6).
Committee member Claire Pomeroy said she had heard the criticism about the meeting agenda but added that the panel has not "done all that much yet that we could be secretive about" (Sacramento Bee, 1/6).