Associated Press 9/14/04
Prop. 71 fray heats up
By Paul Elias
Stem-cell research measure pits church vs. science
The Roman Catholic Church and the wealthy evangelical Christian Howard Ahmanson Jr. have emerged as the biggest financial backers of the campaign against a California ballot measure that would fund stem-cell research and cloning projects in the state.
Each contributed $50,000 this week to separate campaign groups, which have raised a combined $115,000 to oppose the measure, which is listed on the Nov. 2 ballot as Proposition 71. The measure would have the state borrow $3 billion to pay for the controversial research that scientists say is being hindered by the Bush administration.
Meanwhile, proposition supporters have amassed about $12 million, including a contribution Wednesday of 22,400 shares of Amgen Inc. worth more than $1.3 million. The contribution was made by wealthy venture capitalist William Bowes Jr., the founding chairman of biotechnology giant Amgen.
Bowes didn't return a telephone call Thursday.
Venture capitalists have contributed more than $3 million to the pro-71 campaign. While most of those venture capitalists have made campaign contributions to national Democratic candidates including presidential nominee John Kerry, federal election disclosures show Bowes financially supports mostly Republican candidates and contributed to President Bush's first campaign.
Human embryonic stem cells are created in the first days after conception and ultimately turn into all the cells, tissues and organs that comprise the human body. Scientists hope to harness this power to create replacement cells and tissues to treat a wide range of ailments, from diabetes to spinal cord injury.
But many moral conservatives oppose stem-cell research because days-old embryos are destroyed in the process.
"We believe life begins at the moment of conception,' said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. "Stem cell research involves the taking of a human life.'
The U.S. Catholic Conference contributed $50,000 to a new campaign committee formed by the Catholic Church of California. California church spokeswoman Carol Hogan said the state church is also expected to make its own contribution to the group called Californians Against Loan and Clone.
As heir to a savings and loan fortune, Ahmanson finances many Christian organizations and conservative think tanks, including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which disputes much of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
Ahmanson controls the Irvine- based nonprofit Fieldstead & Co., which made a $50,000 contribution to the official opposition campaign group called Doctors, Patients & Taxpayers for Fiscal Responsibility. A Fieldstead spokesman didn't return a telephone call.
The Orange County philanthropist has also supported the Chalcedon Foundation, a conservative religious group in rural California that dreams of a society governed by Biblical law.
Fieldstead and Ahmanson supported several Republican candidates, including $75,000 in contributions to conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock's unsuccessful run for governor during the last year's recall campaign.
No on 71 campaign manager Wayne Johnson welcomed the contributions to a campaign badly in need of them, but said he still expects to be outspent massively by proponents.
"Money isn't what we are about,' said Johnson, who has served as consultant to many conservative candidates, including Republican Bill Simon's 2002 run for governor.
Despite the appearance of an overwhelming conservative influence over the opposition campaign, Johnson insisted Proposition 71 opponents are an "eclectic coalition.'
Some women's groups also oppose the research because of its insatiable need for fertilized eggs, most of which are now donated by fertility clinics with surplus supplies.
What's more, Johnson said the campaign also opposes the proposition on fiscal grounds.
The $3 billion bond will ultimately cost California $6 billion to pay back. Last month, the California Republican Party voted in its state convention to oppose the proposition on financial grounds.
"It's all borrowed money and it all has to be paid back by the citizens of one state that isn't in the best of financial shape,' Johnson said. "Even if we had $3 billion to spend, is this the best way to spend $3 billion? Why is this more important than schools, fighting breast cancer and fixing other problems?'
Proposition supporters argue that the proposition will ultimately pay for itself in reduced health-care costs and royalties earned from inventions created by the $3 billion in research funds.
Some 22 Nobel laureates and a number of patient advocacy groups endorse the measure, which would provide about $300 million in grants annually for 10 years.