Stem-Cell Backers Ready $20 Mil. Push

Whatever else comes of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative—a medical-miracle panacea or a multibillion-dollar biomedical boondoggle—an ad windfall seems a sure thing.

Sources said proponents of the controversial ballot initiative are preparing to spend $20 million to persuade voters to fund embryonic stem-cell research in defiance of President Bush’s restrictions. Backers have raised millions and hired political-advertising firm Winner & Mandabach in Santa Monica, which boasts a 90 percent win record in 130 ballot measures.

The initiative calls for taxpayers to fund $295 million a year for 10 years and would also saddle the state with $6 billion in bond debt.

A coalition of biomed special interests, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, celebrities led by Jerry Zucker, wealthy developers and Democratic lawmakers are backing the cause, which they say could lead to cures for everything from cancer and Alzheimer’s to diabetes and blindness. “Nancy Reagan’s support demonstrates how bipartisan this issue can be,” said Roger Salazar, a Democratic media consultant and spokesman for the coalition. He said it is too early to discuss creative but expects print and TV by fall.

The California Catholic Conference says the bill would deceptively sponsor abortion and unethical research. “Note that the bill uses ‘progenitor cells,’ not ’embryos,’ and ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer,’ not ‘cloning,’ ” said CCC rep Carol Hogan. “We don’t have any money [for ads], but the truth is on our side.”

San Mateo oncologist H. Rex Greene, M.D., said any ads against the initiative would avoid pro-life politics and tell taxpayers they’re “getting soaked. … They use words like ‘promise’ and ‘potential.’ Nobody can honestly say there is anything on the horizon of therapeutic value. Scientists with any ethical stripes won’t make the kind of claims the bill makes.”

Greene said secondary tacks would highlight the bill’s proposed amendment of the California Constitution and its hidden support of human cloning.