One couple dominates stem cell donations
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One couple dominates stem cell donations

Date: October 18, 2006
By: Lucie Wolken
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A husband and wife, both cancer survivors, are the source of nearly 97 percent of the campaign funds in support of the stem cell research  proposal on the November ballot, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. 

The contributions come from James Stowers, who survived prostate cancer, and this wife Virginia Stowers, a breast cancer survivor.  Their Stowers Institute for Medical Research is a not-for-profit organization in Kansas City that seeks to prevent and cure diseases by sponsoring research on genes that control the process of cells. 

Since October 2005, the two have contributed the single largest chunk of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures campaign's 25.51 million. 

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures campaign committee was created in response to the stem cell ballot initiative as its primary proponent. 

It's not just money that the Stowers are pouring into the campaign.

Their institute, located in Kansas City, has warned that it will not go forward with its 600,000 square-foot expansion if Missouri voters reject the Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative on Nov. 7 according to Connie Farrow, spokeswoman for the Coalition.

"James and Virginia believe that the new frontier is stem cell research," Farrow said.  "They will not make an investment in Missouri if Amendment Two does not pass, if their facility could be shut down."

Contributions made to the Coalition are used to fund television, radio, print, and billboard ads as well as an aggressive speakers bureau said Farrow.  The campaign is most concerned with "setting the record straight" for Missourians flooded with information, she said. 

James Stowers was diagnosed with cancer in January 1987.  Virginia Stowers received her diagnosis in May 1993.  The Stowers' struggle to survive cancer was the motivation for establishing an institute dedicated to basic biomedical research, said Marie Jennings of the Stowers Institute.  Their dream was facilitated by the private fortune amassed from their investment firm, American Century.

Not everyone see the Stowers' donation to the stem cell initiative as commendable. 

"It is very interesting that one person is attempting to buy a constitutional amendment and that it is being done in a deceptive way," said Cathy Ruse, spokeswoman for Missourians Against Human Cloning. 

Ruse said she what she sees as the deception is contained in the language of both the amendment itself as well as the language that will appear on the ballot.  Ruse said the amendment does not outlaw human cloning or the selling of eggs, as proponents of the initiative claim.

The Bioethics Defense Fund took the case to court, claiming the language was misleading to voters.  They did not win their case. 

The Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving cures has received the most money of all the campaign committees created around the stem cell initiative, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.  Contributions to the coalition are nearly 33 times that received by the opposition. 

"When one entity dumps so much money into the process it does not seem the other side is well represented," said Carl Landwehr, president of the Vitae Caring Foundation, an organization that releases educational ads in opposition to the stem cell initiative. 

Landwehr said the inequity in funding for campaigns does not lend itself to a free, fair, and open debate.  

Ruse questions the Stowers intent because of what she views as biotech firms' vested interest in the outcome in the issue.

 

"It is important for Missourians to know that one bio-tech industry is pouring so much money into this cause," Ruse said.  "They are set to gain billions if the initiative passes."

 

David Welte, a spokesman for the Stowers, denied accusations that the donation was financially motivated.

 

Welte said the Stowers support the amendment because it would allow researchers at their institute to work without worrying their efforts would be shut down or criminalized. 

 

Despite the comments of skeptics, Farrow maintains that Missourians are fortunate to have two individuals so willing to invest in what the Stowers believe is the future of the state.   

"We have had hundreds of people sending up 5 dollars, 10 dollars, 15- dollar donations, and that is really wonderful to see.  Many of our supporters are people who are critically ill, who, because of their medical expenses, are not able to have a lot of personal money left over to contribute." said Farrow.  "So in our mind, we are very fortunate to have Mr. and Mrs. Stowers and very fortunate that they are so philanthropically minded and willing to contribute their fortune to this."

The Stowers Institute will remain open in Kansas City regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 7 vote.  However, according to Jennings, each future campus will be built outside of Missouri.  

"Embryonic stem cell research is so critical to the ability of the Stowers Institute to become a world renowned research facility," Jennings said.  "To date, [the Stowers] have never considered another location -- they are very much committed to seeing that growth happens in this state if that is at all possible."

What's on the ballot?

Currently, there is no law in Missouri that protects or bans stem cell research or cures.  If passed on Nov. 7, Amendment 2 would ensure that Missourians have equal access to federally approved stem cell cures and that medical institutions in the state of Missouri could conduct stem cell research and administer cures.  The initiative includes a ban on human reproductive cloning and the buying or selling of human eggs.

Stem Cell Campaign Finance:

Here are campaign contributions to groups supporting and opposing Amendment 2, the stem cell research initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot.  The contributions are for the reporting period that ended on Sunday.

Opposing:

Cass County Citizens for Ethical Cures : $1,737

Missouri Roundtable for Life: $771,633

Physicians for Stem Cell Cures: $0

Total: $773,370

Supporting:

Missourians for Life: $0

Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures: 25.51 million

Progressives and Greens for Stem Cell Research: $0

Total: $25.51 million