Public interest group calls for ICOC to adopt rules for public accountability and transparency
The Center for Genetics and Society today called on the "Independent
Citizens Oversight Committee" to immediately address three
areas of particular concern about the activities of the California
Institute for Regenerative Medicine:
conflict of interest rules for members of the ICOC and the three
working groups established by Proposition 71
exemptions of the three working groups from state rules on open
meetings, conflict of interest, and public reporting
overlaps and conflicts among CIRM, the California Research and
Cures Coalition, the debts of the "Yes on 71" campaign,
ICOC Chair Robert Klein's business operations, and his personal
[ read the full letter
Inadequate conflict of interest rules. "The spate
of recent failures at NIH and FDA makes it clear that stronger
limits on conflicts of interest in the biomedical field are
urgently needed," said Marcy Darnovsky, CGS associate executive
director. "This week's new NIH rules reaffirm the principle
that those involved with conducting or overseeing publicly funded
research should be held to the highest standards of accountability."
The disclosure forms filed by ICOC members during the past
month reveal numerous troubling conflicts. ICOC Vice-Chair Edward
Penhoet, for example, serves as a paid partner at a venture
capital firm with a major biotechnology portfolio, and sits
on the board of several biotechnology companies. Penhoet also
holds at least $3 million in biotechnology stocks.
Troubling overlaps among CIRM, CRCC, and "Yes on 71."
ICOC Chair and interim president Robert Klein was also the chair
of the "Yes on 71" campaign and its largest donor.
According to the Los Angeles Times, after spending $35 million,
the "Yes on 71" campaign is raising funds to pay off
$6.5 million of debt, at least $1 million of which is owed to
Klein. "This raises the prospect of the head of a powerful
state agency asking for money to reimburse his own campaign
expenses from people who may desire grants from that agency,"
noted Jesse Reynolds, CGS program director at the Center.
After the successful passage of the proposition, which established
the Institute to grant $3 billion for stem cell research, the
campaign changed into the California Research and Cures Coalition,
a nonprofit organization which advocates for stem cell research
and has acted an interim body of staff for the Institute. Klein
was initially its chair, and both organizations have operated
from the offices of Klein Financial Corporation.
Unwise exemptions of the working groups from public accountability
and transparency laws. Though Proposition 71 exempts the
ICOC's three powerful working groups from key California open
government legislation, the ICOC has the ability to change that
policy. "Some closed sessions are legitimate and legal,"
said Marcy Darnovsky. "But there is no justification for
letting the working groups operate virtually in secrecy, with
no assurance that effective conflict of interest protections
are in place." CGS has called on the ICOC to adopt as policy
that working group meetings, with few and explicit exceptions,
be subject to the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act and the Public
Records Act, and that members of the working groups be subject
to the Political Reform Act.