by Steven Ertelt
March 2, 2007
Sacramento, CA (LifeNews.com) — Auditors for the state of California are criticizing the state’s embryonic stem cell research committee saying its spending habits are causing problems. State officials say the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has lax contracting procedures and is spending too much on travel and meals for its directors.
State Auditor Elaine Howell unveiled a 97 page report on the problems on Tuesday and said that CIRM, the agency created in 2004 to spend more than $3 billion in taxpayer funds on the controversial science, needs to do a better job of policing itself.
The report said the committee need to institute better financial practices, especially if it ever gets to the point that it begins dispersing millions of dollars in scientific grants.
The grants have been held up because pro-life and taxpayer groups have filed a lawsuit against CIRM saying it is violating state open meeting and conflict of interest laws and that the state is supposed to have more official oversight on its spending.
But Robert Klein, the head of the committee, told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper that the committee has already corrected some of the problems outlined in the report. He also claimed no taxpayer funds had been wasted.
Klein also indicated that when limits were exceeded, the spending was justified and paid for by private donations rather than through the tax funds the committee uses.
According to the Chronicle, the report also indicated that the agency spent too much on hired drivers, expensive plane tickets, and catered meals. The audit also found "errors, omissions and inconsistencies" in the setting of salaries.
Jesse Reynolds, a policy analyst at the Center for Genetics and Society, told the newspaper he’s concerned about the level of public accountability for the group and questioned the spending habits identified in the report.
"Some of them sound admittedly a bit excessive, but I don’t think that’s surprising considering this is a $3 billion agency generally not accountable to state government," Reynolds said.
The first round of $45 million in grants went out last month using loan money from the state until the committee can sell bonds. The bonds would be worthless if the courts overturn the stem cell agency.