A prominent American politician once claimed that "All politics is local." But the International Society for Stem Cell Research, formed "to foster the exchange of information on stem cell research," is not the sort of institution one would expect to get involved in local land use disputes. Yet it has gone up to bat in favor of a controversial proposed land development near Sacramento, California. The proposal includes a stem cell research center in an attempt to sway the local county Board of Supervisors.
Why would George Daley, the president of an international scientific organization and a top researcher at Harvard, take the time to write a letter to the supervisors of a rural California county? Let's look at some details.
The ISSCR recently brought on Robert Klein, California's stem cell czar, to its advisory board, apparently to help raise money. Before he was board chairman of the state's $3 billion stem cell program, and before he chaired the voter initiative campaign to create the program, Klein was making his millions in land development. His past relationship with the developer behind the current proposal, Angelo Tsakopolous, remains unclear. But more recently, Tsakopolous, one of the area's most powerful businessmen, donated $125,000 to a stem cell lobbying organization headed by Klein. That organization raises money to pay off the outstanding debt from the initiative that Klein chaired. Who receives the cash from any such recovered debt? The largest holder of the debt is Klein himself.
A generous reading of these details would be that of a fortunate confluence of individuals' interests. A more skeptical one is that three powerful men are scratching each others' backs, leading them to advocate outside their professional arenas. That may be merely odd for Daley and Tsakopolous, but Klein is a different case. As weandothers have said before, he needs to decide if he's a public servant or a private advocate.