Stem Cell Boondoggle Bloats by $5.5 Billion

Proposition 14, California’s $5.5 billion Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative, was declared a victor last week by a margin of 51-49 percent. How much post-election ballot harvesting contributed to the margin is unknown, and voters have cause to wonder how the measure landed on the ballot. As we noted, backers Americans for Cures needed more than 600,000 signatures by April 18, and they resorted to desperate measures. As this writer twice verified, signature gatherers falsely claimed the measure sought only $1.5 billion. As the deadline approached, Don Reed, Americans for Cures vice president of public policy, began pushing for mail-in signatures.

“Your signatures might literally save CIRM, [California Institute for Regenerative Medicine] helping us put a $5.5 billion renewal bill on the ballot,” Reed wrote. “Its purpose is to fight chronic diseases, like COVID-19, the dread coronavirus—and so much more!!” Reed provided a website with directions to print out 16 pages, including an “address block to fill out, with yourself as the signature collector, and then four (just four!) signatures from people in your county. Your next door neighbors, perhaps.” This was to be mailed into Melissa King, executive director of Americans for Cures. Any fraud in the process was ignored by secretary of state Alex Padilla, who greenlighted the measure for November 3. 

The chairman of Americans for Cures is Robert Klein, the real estate tycoon who backed Proposition 71 in 2004. Back then, Klein deployed celebrities such as Christopher Reeve, Brad Pitt, and Michael J. Fox to tout life-saving cures the $3 billion would surely bring. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2018, “not a single federally approved therapy has resulted from CIRM-funded science. The predicted financial windfall has not materialized.”

In September 2020, CIRM reported that the FDA had “granted breakthrough therapy designation” to the antibody therapeutic Magrolimab, funded by CIRM in the trial stage. As the CIRM report notes, the breakthrough therapy designation is “intended to help expedite the development of new treatments” and Magrolimab is undergoing another trial that is “one of the last steps before seeking FDA approval for widespread commercial use.” As full FDA approval awaits, CIRM still falls far short of the cures, treatments and therapies promised in 2004. Taxpayers might wonder where all the money went.

Also in September, Harold Shapiro, head of an Institute of Medicine study of CIRM in 2012, told Capitol Weekly that CIRM directors “make proposals to themselves, essentially, regarding what should be funded. They cannot exert independent oversight.” And as voters might recall, Klein designed CIRM to remain off limits from nearly all legislative oversight.

“The state currently owes about $1 billion toward the debt created by Proposition 71,” KQED reports. “The price tag to pay off the new bond will be about $260 million per year for about 30 years.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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