Stem Cell Research Agency Keeps Secretive Style

OPEN GOVERNMENT — After its first five years, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) still hasn't learned to take governmental transparency seriously. "Recently . . . the agency has had difficulty even complying with
the basic state public records law and the state Constitution's public
access guarantees, much less achieving a higher level of performance," writes David Jensen in the California Stem Cell Report.

The two most recent cases involving CIRM's failure to comply with state
public records law both concern contracts with private firms. The first
is a $100,000 contract with
Levin & Co.,
of Boston, Mass., to help search for candidates for the position of
vice president for research and development. The second involves a
$250,000 contract with
Square One Bank to conduct a financial review of Novocell, which was approved for a $20 million loan by CIRM directors last month.

In
the case of Levin, the censored material involved 16 pieces of
information including its legal business name, address, whether it is a
partnership or corporation, name of the person signing the document and
his or her title along with his signature and date of the signing. Even
the names of those categories were blacked out.

(See page 14 of the contract for a look at the redaction. A blank copy of the state form involved can be found here.

Previously
CIRM had posted such information for other companies voluntarily on its
Web site, so we had assumed that the redactions were a mistake and
consequently did not write about the matter. (After we questioned the
redaction, CIRM ultimately provided the material it had chosen to
withhold.)

Then came the response to our Oct. 16 request for a
copy of the contract with Square One bank. It was another relatively
routine matter, although it involves the start-up stages of a $500
million biotech loan program that is expected to have default rates up
to 50 percent.

The copy of the contract
showed that it was capped at $250,000, but that information had been
reported earlier. Censored was the following information: underwriting
fee to be paid per loan, annual service fee, warrant administration fee
and the legal fee to be paid by CIRM to Square One

Such
information is public record and commonly disclosed by state agencies.
Otherwise, invoices to CIRM and payments by the agency containing that
information would be cloaked in secrecy.

On Nov. 8, we asked CIRM for the legal justification for not providing the Square One fee information. Yesterday (Nov. 16), Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, replied with one sentence,“From
our legal team: The redactions were made at the request of Square 1
Bank, based on its determination that the fee structure is confidential
and proprietary.“

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One thought on “Stem Cell Research Agency Keeps Secretive Style

  1. Last week the board of the stem cell agency voted to create a directors committee to improve its media and public communications. A good portion of this effort is likely to be directed towards building support for continuation of the program, which is only funded through state bonds for another five to seven years or so. It could be that the directors may find it in the interest of the agency’s public credibility to insist on some improvements in its openness and transparency. Here is a link to the document approved with no dissent last week. And thanks, Terry, to pointing to our piece on this issue. http://www.cirm.ca.gov/files/%23%2018%20for%2012_9-10_09_Public%20Communications%20–%20AT-JH%20edits%20%2800097173-4%29.pdf

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