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Will Greg Abbott’s CPRIT Scandal Repeat Texas History?
Fifty five years ago, another Texas Attorney General considered a shoo-in to be elected Texas Governor was forced into retirement after failing in his duty to provide oversight of a Texas agency rocked by scandal and corruption.
Shepperd sat on the Veterans Land Board but failed to provide sufficient oversight to prevent the illegal activity. Ultimately, the scandal resulted in prison sentences for the participants. While Shepperd avoided any legal prosecution, his failure to do his oversight duties not only ended his chance to be Texas Governor but led him to retire as Texas AG. (Texas State Historical Association)
Last week, the Lone Star Project released research exposing Attorney General Greg Abbott’s failure to fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) oversight board. Abbott looked the other way as taxpayer dollars were given away to businesses whose grant requests received low review scores or were not reviewed at all.
Why did Abbott fail to attend a single CPRIT oversight board meeting? (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013)
Here’s the likely reason.
Since 2001, Greg Abbott has received nearly half a million dollars in campaign contributions from a handful of individuals who are connected to CPRIT. Companies connected to the Abbott contributors have in turn received $42,800,861 in grants from CPRIT.
Abbott’s “Hide and Don’t Watch” Oversight
|Donors & Dollars to Greg Abbott||CPRIT Dollars to Abbott Donors|
|Jimmy Mansour: $17,000
James Leininger: $275,000
Jimmy Mansour has been an Abbott donor many years, contributing $17,000 to his campaign (Texas Ethics Commission). Mansour was also chair of the CPRIT Oversight Board that Abbott never attended. (Dallas Morning News 11/17/2012)
James Leininger has been even more active in promoting Abbott’s political career, giving a total of $275,000. (Texas Ethics Commission) Leininger has also taken the Abbott family on three trips.
|Caliber Biotherapeutics: $12,808,151
Gradalis, Inc: $748,905
(CPRIT Funded Grants Listing)
James Leininger and Jimmy Mansour have both invested in Gradalis. Meanwhile, Medcare Investment Funds - a venture capital firm founded by James Leininger – has invested in Caliber Biotherapeutics. CPRIT’s scientists gave Caliber’s proposal a low science score, but the company received CPRIT funding anyway. (Dallas Morning News 11/17/2012)
|Edith and Peter O’Donnell: $165,000
Edith and Peter O’Donnell are major investors in Greg Abbott’s political career – and in CPRIT.
|Peloton Therapeutics: $11,044,931
CPRIT’s grant to Peloton Theraputics was a source of controversy after it was revealed that the funds were granted out without administrative or scientific review of Peloton’s application. (Dallas Morning News 5/31/2013)
According to CEO Larry McKnight, Peter O’Donnell has invested “about $3 million” in Peloton Therapeutics. (Dallas Morning News 10/29/2011) When the Peloton grant drew public scrutiny, O’Donnell pointed out that O’Donnell’s investment took place after Peloton received the grant. He also has says he donated his shares in Peloton to UT Southwestern Medical Center. (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013)
However, the O’Donnell Foundation moved $1.5 million into an entity created to “supplement” the salaries of top CPRIT, thus retaining an O’Donnell connection to CPRIT. (CPRIT Foundation donor list)
|John D. White: $5,000
E.J. Pederson: $5,000
White runs Standard Renewable Energy Corporation (Kalon Website) while Pederson is a former administrator for the University of Texas Medical Branch. (Kalon website) However, White and Pederson both sit on the Board of Managers of Kalon Biotherapeutics.
|Kalon Biotherapeutics: $7,901,420
(Note: this grant is subject to contract negotiations, thus the actual amount may change) (CPRIT Funded Grant Listing) Like with Caliber’s application, CPRIT’s scientists raised questions about Kalon’s grant proposal. But despite their concerns CPRIT gave the company almost $8 million. (Dallas Morning News 11/17/2012)
Through its venture capital arm, Pfizer Ventures, this pharmaceutical giant is an investor in Mirna Therapeutics. (Business Wire 10/24/2012) It also is an investor in Greg Abbott.
|Mirna Therapeutics, Inc.: $10,297,454
Pfizer didn’t invest in Mirna Therapeutics until two years after the company received the grant from CPRIT. (Business Wire 10/24/2012; CPRIT Funded Grants Listing) But it wasn’t until after Mirna received the grant that Pfizer began funding the CPRIT foundation- the organization created to “supplement” the salaries of CPRIT officials. (CPRIT Foundation donor list)
“I’ll Cover Your Tracks” Investigation
Greg Abbott failed to provide oversight while millions of dollars were doled out to friends and donors through CPRIT. Abbott himself did not attend a single oversight board meeting. (Dallas Morning News 5/11/2013
However, now that a scandal encompasses CPRIT, putting Abbott’s donors, and perhaps Greg Abbott himself, at risk of exposing illegal – or at least politically embarrassing – actions, he has launched an AG investigation of CPRIT. The investigation has been underway for over six months, but Abbott has failed to release any significant findings. Abbott claims his computer forensics units has recovered some of the emails between key CPRIT officials, but little else has surfaced regarding his office’s investigation. (Dallas Morning News 5/31/2013)
Greg Abbott needs oversight
In effect, Greg Abbott is investigating an agency that fell into scandal due to his own negligence and failure to carry out his oversight duties as State Attorney General. His office's investigation into his own high-level campaign donors is a huge conflict of interest.