2012-12-24 / News

Salary policy defended by cancer research group

AUSTIN — A foundation that boosts executive salaries at Texas’ troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting effort defended to critical lawmakers this past week a policy that keeps donors confidential while being lectured over appearances of pay-to-play politics.

Facing pointed and occasionally combative questions from state budgetwriters, officials with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas appeared before a public panel for the first time since prosecutors announced a criminal probe into the beleaguered agency and Gov. Rick Perry called for a moratorium on new awards.

Not all members of the influential House Appropriations Committee were happy with who showed up to testify. Absent were the three top agency executives who have resigned in the past eight months: Executive Director Bill Gimson, Chief Commercialization Officer Jerry Cobbs and Chief Scientific Officer Alfred Gilman.

All three are principal players surrounding $11 million in taxpayer funds that were awarded in 2010 to a private startup despite the project bypassing an independent review. Republican Jim Pitts, chairman of the House committee, left the door open to the agency’s former leadership being hauled in front of lawmakers as soon as January.

That left Barbara Canales, vice president of the nonprofit CPRIT Foundation and a member of the agency’s governing board, answering recurring and tough questions about the role of the nonprofit arm. One of the foundation’s chief purposes is to supplement the salaries of top institute executives, including Gimson, whose annual salary was $300,000.

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