Public interest group calls for CIRM Chair Robert Klein and board member John Reed to step down
The Center for Genetics and Society today called on California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Chair Robert Klein, and Board Member John Reed, to step down following their admitted actions that appear to violate conflict-of-interest laws.
"This is a case of improper and potentially illegal efforts by a CIRM board member, following advice from CIRM Chair Robert Klein, to influence the allocation of public funds," said CGS policy analyst Jesse Reynolds. "But the big picture is the structure of the board - which is required by Proposition 71 to include a majority of members who represent the very institutions waiting in line to receive grants."
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is the state agency created by Proposition 71 in 2004 to allocate $3 billion that voters agreed to invest in stem cell research.
Reed has admitted that he lobbied CIRM staff in an attempt to reverse a decision rejecting a grant proposal by a scientist at the Burnham Institute of Medical Research, where he is president.
CIRM Board Chair Robert Klein advised Reed to write the letter. Klein was the primary author of Proposition 71, which explicitly prohibits just this sort of lobbying - though it specifies no remedies for violations.
"This is part of a distinct pattern by Klein," Reynolds said in an op-ed published in today's San Francisco Chronicle. "He repeatedly chooses heavy-handed tactics and misleading statements over transparency and accountability. He routinely dismisses public process, and seems reluctant to assume the ethical obligations of a public official."
"For the recent back-door lobbying, and for other ethical breaches, it's time for Klein to step down," Reynolds added.
On Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang announced that he will lead an audit of the stem cell institute and its conflict-of-interest standards.
The Center supports embryonic stem cell research but opposed the 2004 ballot initiative that established CIRM. It has documented conflicts of interest on the CIRM governing board, reported [PDF] a range of problems at CIRM during its first years, and in January 2006 called on Klein to resign.
The Sacramento Bee's editorial page and the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights have also called for Klein's resignation.
The Center for Genetics and Society is a nonprofit information and public affairs organization working to encourage responsible uses and effective societal governance of the new human genetic and reproductive technologies.