Millionaire Fights for Stem Cell Research

Just a reminder that there are still intelligent, good people out there, despite evidence to the contrary almost every single day. Bob Klein, California businessman, a millionaire and a long-time democrat, has pledged a ton of money to help get extra funding for stem cell research:

Klein, 59, a tan and fit resident of the Portola Valley near Palo Alto, has become one of the most outspoken advocates of stem cell research.

He's using his fortune and political connections skills to create and back Proposition 71, a California ballot measure that would have the state borrow $3 billion to fund stem cell research over 10 years. That contribution dwarfs all other support combined, including the $25 million provided by the federal government last year.

Klein drafted the proposition's language and provided an initial $1 million last year to launch a petition drive to qualify the measure for the November 2 ballot. He's kicked in another $1 million and is the campaign's chairman and chief fund-raiser for an effort that has raised an additional $10 million.

By contrast, the opposition campaign has raised only $150,000.

"He's a skillful lobbyist in the halls of Sacramento," California's capital, said Willie Brown, former San Francisco mayor and speaker of the state Assembly until 1995. "He has set about to use those extraordinary skills in his personal quest to get government to do something."

Klein is also a board member of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which committed $20 million to stem cell scientists and has emerged as one of the research's most outspoken proponents. It has contributed $1 million to the California campaign.

To focus on finding a cure for diabetes, Klein gave up his board membership on the California Housing Financing Agency, which he helped create in 1974. The agency, which helps first-time home buyers, lends about $1.2 billion at below-market rates each year.

"He's given his heart and soul to the board, and the agency is something he's extremely proud of," said Theresa Parker, the agency's executive director. "But he has to do this now, and to have the passion he has is tremendously impressive."

Klein still heads Klein Financial Corp., which focuses on building low-income housing in desirable neighborhoods in projects that make money for their investors. The company is well-respected on both Wall Street and among nonprofit housing organizations -- not an easy feat in an industry whose reputation is marred by slumlords.

Besides Klein, well-heeled parents of other sick children, including Hollywood executives Jerry and Janet Zucker and Douglas Wick and his wife Lucy Fisher, have contributed money and time to the "Yes on 71" campaign. Silicon Valley venture capitalists and technology industry billionaires, including Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, have also made large contributions.

"It has become a cause celebre," said state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Democrat who sponsored a law passed last year endorsing stem cell research in the state. "Stem cell research has emerged as a new hot-button, national issue."

Though Klein and his supporters have out-raised the opposition campaign, the vote could be a cliffhanger. A state poll conducted in early August showed 45 percent of the 534 likely voters in support of Proposition 71, and 42 percent in opposition. That's within the margin of sampling error of 4.5 percentage points. The rest were undecided.

Klein sounds like a great guy who is supporting a great cause. His son was recently diagnosed with juvenille diabetes and he has since taken up this honorable cause. In many cases it's tragedy that makes people realize the good they can do, if they commit themselves to a cause. Klein was already helping people out with his low-cost housing, but he's doing the entire world a service. Even if the proposition doesn't pass, that he has given of his own money and time to try and make a change for the better is commendable. Kudos, Joe Klein! You are what makes America great!
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