MY STATE of California now has three United States senators. No, we weren't granted increased representation because we are the biggest state. Rather, New Jersey Democratic senator Jon Corzine just tried to boost California's biotech sector by personally donating $100,000 to help pass Proposition 71, an initiative on the November ballot that would force Californians to borrow $3 billion over 10 years to pay biotech companies and their university business partners to conduct mass experiments in human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
Proposition 71's supporters claim that since only in-state companies will be eligible to pick fruit off the public money tree, passing the proposed constitutional amendment will make California a biotech industry magnet. Indeed, according to the hype, so many biotech companies will move here that increased state business tax collections will all but pay for Proposition 71's total $6 billion (including interest) cost.
Corzine's donation conflicts directly with the business-attracting strategy of his own state. New Jersey and California are engaged in an intense competition to be seen as the most biotech friendly. In the belief that an anything goes legal climate would help New Jersey gain the upper hand, soon-to-be ex-governor James E. McGreevey signed a pro-human cloning law last January that is so radical it explicitly allows the creation of cloned human embryos, permits them to be implanted and gestated through the ninth month, and only requires their destruction a moment prior to the completion of the birth process.
As a further inducement for biotech companies to settle in New Jersey, McGreevey prodded the legislature to throw in a few million dollars in public funding to finance cloning and embryonic stem cell research. But if Proposition 71 passes, biotech industry magnates will see this as chump change, potentially setting off a relocation stampede to California in the hope of striking it rich on the California taxpayers' tab. At the very least, it would require New Jersey to radically up its own financial inducements to the industry, pushing the Garden State to mimic the financially ruined Golden State's folly of sacrificing money needed for today's essential state services on the altar of tomorrow's biotechnological breakthroughs.
THIS intensifying drive to publicly fund cloning and embryonic stem cell research came about because of the widespread refusal by the private sector to invest bounteously in companies conducting such experiments. Indeed, according to several recent articles published in the business press, venture capitalists apparently do not believe that these technologies will become financially viable any time soon, and so, even though they support the research politically, they are closing their own wallets.
Which may explain the behavior of Bill Gates. Gates, who has more money than many countries, is apparently a big fan of biotechnological research. But, it seems, not a big enough fan to invest real money (for him) into the industry. Indeed, despite the fact that without borrowing, Gates could better afford to pay $3 billion over 10 years for embryonic stem cell and human cloning research than can the State of California, he has instead contributed a paltry (for him) $400,000 to the Yes on Proposition 71 campaign. In other words, he (and other rich contributors to Prop. 71) want taxpayers to rush in where industrialists fear to tread.
This raises an intriguing question: If this research is going to be as successful and remunerative as its boosters claim, why don't the hyper rich simply shoulder the easy burden (for them) and invest a billion or two into private cloning companies and then sit back and wait for their vast fortunes to increase or donate their humungous profits to a foundation to pay for health care needs of the poor--which to his credit, is a major philanthropic cause for Gates. Why instead fund a proposition that would constitutionally require Californians to borrow billions at the very time when our poor children, seniors, and developmentally disabled citizens are having their benefits slashed because the state is drowning in red ink?
All of this political maneuvering demonstrates how Establishment Big Biotech has become. It is now so politically connected that we can expect the industry to attempt to raid state and federal treasuries as often in coming years as the Vikings pillaged Medieval Ireland. Not only that, but it is so locked into the elite governing establishment that the infamous revolving door has begun spinning like a top, rewarding legislators who loyally carry the industry's water with plum executive positions when they leave government service.
Governor McGreevey may benefit from this pattern when he leaves office in November, at least according to a prominent supporter who opined that the governor could well end up in the private sector boosting stem cell research. Meanwhile, Representative James C. Greenwood (R-Penn.), who twice fought to thwart the House of Representatives from passing legislation to ban all human cloning, just accepted a salary of $600,000+ per year to be president of the industry's powerful lobbying arm, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). As president of BIO, Greenwood will oversee an annual $40 million budget to further the biotech industry's financial and political interests.
Where might all of this lead? At present, there are no federal proposals to fund human cloning research--although Ron Reagan touted the idea in his demagogic speech at the Democrat National Convention. But this respite is unlikely to last long. No doubt, especially if John Kerry is elected, Greenwood will soon start hitting up his former Hill colleagues to pay for human cloning research on the federal dime, proving, if nothing else, that try as we might to take the money out of politics, we will never take the politics out of money.
California-based Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture. His next book will be Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, to be published by Encounter Books in October.