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Rivals charge Prop. 71 conflict

by Laura MecoySacramento Bee
October 20th, 2004

Stem cell researcher in 'yes' ads could get rich, they contend.
LOS ANGELES - Stem cell initiative opponents on Tuesday demanded that the Proposition 71 campaign release the financial holdings of its supporters amid new reports that one of the measure's advocates could profit from the $3 billion bond measure.
FoxNews.com reported that Stanford University professor Irving Weissman, a stem cell researcher featured in the initiative's campaign ads, could become a "very wealthy man" because of stock options he holds in the biotech firm, StemCells Inc.

Weissman was one of the founders of the Palo Alto-based firm investigating the use of stem cells to treat several illnesses and holds stock options from the firm. The stock is trading at about $2 per share. But if the value were to rise to $5.25 a share, the FoxNews.com report claims, Weissman's options would be valuable.

Tim Rosales, the opposition campaign's spokesman, said the report raised more questions about potential profits for those supporting Proposition 71 and contributing to it. The "No on Proposition 71" campaign has claimed that venture capitalists, who have contributed nearly 40 percent of the more than $22 million raised so far in support of the measure, could profit. The "Yes on Proposition 71" campaign and some of its top donors have denied the claims.

Weissman declined to comment on the FoxNews.com reports, saying through a spokeswoman that he didn't have time before he had to teach a class Tuesday.

Fiona Hutton, a "Yes on Proposition 71" spokeswoman, said she didn't know about Weissman's financial holdings.

She said he is featured in an ad supporting the initiative because he is "one of the most respected international experts on stem cell research" and the chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on stem cell research.

Roger Salazar, another spokesman, questioned how the campaign could ever get financial disclosures from all of its contributors and supporters.

He also pointed out that the initiative established a process to ensure that those deciding the grants and loans from the program had no financial interest in them.

Proposition 71 would make available about $295 million a year over the next decade for embryonic stem cell research. A panel of scientists, who are not supposed to have any interest in the research, would initially decide which research projects would qualify for grants or loans. Each grant or loan application would then be approved by a 29-member committee representing universities, nonprofit research institutes and disease advocacy groups.

"The opponents are trying to do everything they can to get away from the real message of this initiative that offers hope for cures for real Californians," Salazar said. "We are not interested in playing their games."

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