(Originally posted at the Lone Star Project)
For voters, it seemed to make sense for the State Attorney General, our top civil law enforcement official, to sit on the board of the newly created Cancer Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The promise of new and innovative treatments for cancer was clearly a worthwhile state expenditure, but accountability would be needed. With millions of tax dollars flowing through the agency to private companies, a State official with law enforcement responsibilities diligently conducting oversight would deter improper activity and, if improprieties occurred, could move quickly to investigate and prosecute.
So much for reasonable expectations. It turns out that Texas AG Greg Abbott sitting on the oversight board was a green light rather than a caution sign to many of these key donors. Businesses backed by Abbott contributors – many of whom are partisan Republicans – have received large grants and contracts from CPRIT without fear of any oversight at all.
Read more below the jump.
As a result, CPRIT is now embroiled in controversy. The Dallas Morning News and other Texas news outlets have exposed millions of dollars going to companies that received poor reviews and, in one instance, receiving grants without any review at all. (Dallas Morning News 11/19/2012) (Dallas Morning News 5/31/2013)
Since the awarding of these grants, several CPRIT officials have resigned and elected officials blocked the troubled cancer agency from funding any more commercialization projects. (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013)
Picking Winners …
Greg Abbott looked the other way while his friends raided CPRIT
Just days ago while announcing his candidacy for Governor, Greg Abbott said he wasn’t going to pick winners and losers among businesses. That will come as a surprise to anyone who has followed grant awards at CPRIT. By failing to do his job on the oversight board, Abbott dealt a winning hand to his business friends.
Since CPRIT was established in 2007, Attorney General Greg Abbott has not attended a single CPRIT oversight board meeting. (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013) Rather than assure proper review and awarding of grant requests and contracts, Abbott looked the other way as key donors received millions in grant money from CPRIT.
At least 10 Abbott contributors have ties to CPRIT and have received money from the agency. Companies owned by two of them – James Leininger and Peter O’Donnell – have together received almost $25 million from CPRIT. Both Leininger and O’Donnell are well-known deep-pocket Republican contributors. Combined they have given Greg Abbott over $400,000 since 2001. (Texas Ethics Commission)
- James Leininger – A Leininger-backed company called Caliber Biotherapeutics asked CPRIT for $12 million to grow cancer drugs from tobacco plants. CPRIT's scientific review board gave the grant request low scores, and CPRIT senior officials expressed serious doubts about making such a large grant given problems with the proposal. Nevertheless, those with doubts were overruled, and Leininger's company received the money anyway. (Dallas Morning News 10/29/2011)
- Peter O'Donnell – Meanwhile, Peloton Therapeutics, a company controlled by Abbott backer Peter O’Donnell, was handed an $11 million grant without scientific review. (Dallas Morning News 5/31/2013)
Now, is Greg Abbott covering for unscrupulous donors?
While Abbott failed to attend even a single CPRIT oversight board meeting, once improprieties at the agency were exposed, he announced an AG investigation of the agency. So, for the past five years Greg Abbott has done little to insure integrity or accountability at CPRIT. But now that possible corruption by Abbott donors has come to light, he has stepped in to investigate (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013). It is reasonable to suspect that AG investigators may spend more time covering for Abbott donors than rooting out improprieties at CPRIT.
Abbott should appoint an outside special investigator.
Given the current Grand Jury investigation, Abbott’s close financial ties to CPRIT grant recipients and his own negligence in the CPRIT scandal, Greg Abbott is clearly NOT the person who should be conducting an investigation into wrong-doing at the cancer research agency. As a member of the Oversight Committee, Abbott himself was responsible for preventing cronyism. He is currently embarking on a campaign for Governor where he will continue to call on his CPRIT-connected donors for contributions.