SAN FRANCISCO: The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a public organization created by voter referendum, is fending off accusations from a watchdog group that it “laundered” PR advice through its law firm in order to keep the advice secret.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) recently brought to light CIRM's hiring of Rubenstein Associates, which took place after a news story broke about an investigation into an Australian scientist over inconsistencies in that scientist's research. CIRM's newly named president had worked with that scientist.
The institute defended the Rubenstein hire, saying in a statement that it was without a communications employee at the time and wanted advice in matters that could be legal in nature.
“In addition, they were hired via our outside attorney because the confidential investigation taking place in Australia may have had legal ramifications for CIRM and knowledge about what was taking place in this area was important for CIRM legal counsel to understand,” a statement from CIRM said. Rubenstein declined to comment for this story.
Several PR pros told PRWeek that while being subcontracted through a law firm happens on occasion in the private sector, they had never heard of such an instance with a taxpayer-funded organization. Still, one source said that because of the small amount of money involved, the urgency of the matter, and the short-term nature of the arrangement, it did not seem to be a “big deal.”
FTCR stem cell director John Simpson, who led the effort for FTCR, disagrees. “I do not begrudge them public relations advice, but the public should know what kind of advice they're receiving,” he said.
The institute is currently searching for an agency for education efforts as well, and Ellen Rose, interim chief communications officer, said the organization will decide once Don Gibbons, the institute's new communications head, gets settled in his new role.