AUSTIN (KXAN) — The newest television ad from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis goes after her Republican challenger Greg Abbott for alleged connections to grants from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas.
The ad starts with a shot of a man named Manuel Alvarado and two children. Text on the screen introduces Manuel as a Fort Worth, Texas cancer survivor.
“When you’re battling cancer, you pray for a cure,” says Alvarado.
Not True: “But Greg Abbott did his best to keep my prayers from being answered.”
We found no evidence to show that Abbott intentionally blocked funding for cancer-related organizations. How some grants were awarded is in question.
The state auditor identified three applications that had “significant issues”:
Statewide Clinical Trials Network of Texas
- $25.2 million research grant
- The money was awarded “even though CTNeT did not exist at the time the grant was awarded.”
- CTNeT Abstract
Houston-Area Translational Research Consortium (HATRC) & Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS)
- $20 million commercialization grant
- “Neither the HATRC grant application nor the IACS research proposal received scientific, due diligence, or intellectual property reviews.”
- “CPRIT reported that it rescinded the award in May 2012…”
Peloton Therapeutics Inc.
- $11 million commercialization grant
- “…application did not receive scientific, commercialization, due diligence, or intellectual property reviews.”
- View the award description from CPRIT
The grant awards questioned by the state auditor are to groups working in cancer-related fields. Still, critics continue to question how the money is used by some groups.
The audit also raises questions about the agency standards: “By not ensuring that all grant applications are properly evaluated and documented, CPRIT weakens its ability to ensure that its award decisions best align with the agency’s mission,” the report reads.
Mostly True: “Greg Abbott was charged with overseeing the state cancer research fund.”
“Greg Abbott, Attorney General” is listed in the state audit as a member of the oversight committee.
However, the audit also points out that the membership could be “The Attorney General or Attorney General’s designee.”
“Pursuant to Chapter 102 of the Health & Safety Code, Attorney General Abbott named a designee and therefore, did not cast a single vote on any CPRIT grant. Instead, recognizing that the AG’s Office could be called upon to review CPRIT’s activities, he recused himself and instead exercised his statutory authority to appoint a designee who served on the CPRIT board in his place,” reads a statement provided by the Attorney General’s office.
Abbott was also one of 14 members of the CPRIT oversight committee listed in the auditor’s report.
Misleading: “But he let his wealthiest donors take tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, without proper oversight.”
We saw no evidence to show that the donors themselves received millions of dollars directly, although some may be connected to groups that landed CPRIT funding.
Peter O’Donnell was an early donor in Peloton Therapeutics, according to this 2011 press release. Ethics records analyzed by KXAN News show a Peter O’Donnell has contributed $145,000 to Abbott’s campaigns since 2001.
KXAN News confirmed a connection for a CPRIT award to Kalon Biotherapeutics. A donor named John White contributed $5,000 to Greg Abbott’s campaign in 2006, according to state ethics records. White is also the Chairman of the Kalon Board of Managers. Kalon was awarded $7.9 million in 2012.
Still, the Public Integrity Unit investigated CPRIT awards and that investigation has come to a close. Jerald Cobbs, 62, was indicted for Securing Execution of a Document by Deception in connection with the grant for Peloton Therapeutics. Cobbs was the the Chief Commercialization Officer of CPRIT between 2009 and 2012.
The investigation from the Public Integrity Unit looked into concerns over grant awards, possible conflicts of interest and financial improprieties related to the CPRIT Foundation and “concerns over potential conflicts of interest related to business interests and investments of CPRIT Oversight Committee members,” of which the Texas Attorney General’s Office is given a spot, according to the Travis County District Attorney’s office.
CPRIT is now awarding grants again, although it had a moratorium on issuing grants for from December 2012 to October 2013, according to CPRIT.
CPRIT has also made a number of changes since these questions first arose.
Mostly True: “They showered Abbott with gifts and free vacations.”
KXAN News could confirm one CPRIT link in this regard. Caliber Biotheraputics was awarded $12.8 million by CPRIT in 2011. Caliber’s website lists MedCare Investment Funds as an institutional investor. The founder of MedCare is James Leininger. Leininger is an Abbott donor, who has contributed at least $170,000 and as much as $289,000 over a number of years, according to a KXAN analysis of ethics documents.
The documents also show a Jim Leininger — with the same city and zip code listed as the campaign donor — gave Abbott and his family transportation and lodging on at least three trips.
Years of personal disclosure documents do detail gifts to Greg Abbott including tickets and food at a Cowboy’s game for Abbott and his family and a pair of boots. The Davis campaign contends there is at least one other gift-giver that has connections to a CPRIT organization. However, KXAN News could not immediately confirm that case.
The ad ends echoing the theme of the video:”And they made off with money that was meant to find a cure.”
Abbott’s campaign responded to the ad:
“It’s ironic that Sen. Davis – who has repeatedly profited from public service and whose legal work is part of an FBI investigation – would question the integrity of Attorney General Abbott. If there is a candidate who is guilty of pay-to-play politics, it’s Sen. Davis, who has consistently sold her position to pad her personal bank account. This ad is yet another case of a desperate, losing campaign playing fast and loose with charges that have already been debunked.” – Abbott Supporting Information
The Davis campaign also released a statement:
“Greg Abbott is trying to distract Texas voters from his troubling pattern of using his office to help his donors at the expense of hardworking Texans,” said Zac Petkanas, communications director. “From siding with corporations over rape survivors to allowing his donors to take tens of millions of dollars intended for cancer research, Greg Abbott is telling Texas families that he’s just not working for them.” — Davis Supporting Information