CPRIT

Perry Attorneys Dismiss Democrats’ CPRIT Investigation Accusations

Gov. Rick Perry’s defense team is refuting claims the governor targeted the Travis County Public Integrity unit because its CPRIT investigation.

In a conference call Thursday, attorney Tony Buzbee read from an affidavit signed by a former PIU investigator in charge of the CPRIT investigation. He states that “at no time in the CPRIT investigation was Governor Rick Perry or anyone from the Governor’s office a target.” The investigator, identified as Chris Walling, said he was interviewed by special prosecutor Michael McCrum. Walling said, “I made it clear to him that there was absolutely no evidence even suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Governor Perry.”

Perry was indicted last week on felony charges that he coerced a public official and abused his office. The charges stem from Perry’s 2013 threat to veto $7.5 million for the PIU if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign following a drunk driving conviction. 

Democrats have pointed to the CPRIT investigation as a possible motive for Gov. Perry to force Lehmberg, who is a Democrat, out of office. However the Travis County Democratic Party has not said the unit was investigating Perry, specifically.

“Probably the worst political issue about this whole thing is that he actually vetoed those funds while the Public Integrity Unit was investigating the cancer research funds that mysteriously went to some of their donors without the proper vetting process,” said chairman Joe Deshotel.

Perry defense attorney Ben Ginsburg called the accusations “a red herring Democrats are trying to make float upstream.”

Capital Tonight: More fallout from cancer research funding scandal

A Travis County grand jury has indicted a former executive of the state’s embattled cancer-fighting agency, known as CPRIT. Jerald Cobbs is charged with withholding information and securing execution of a document by deception, a first degree felony.

The fallout from Cobbs’ involvement in improperly awarding an $11 million grant to a company now known as Peloton Therapeutics could go beyond criminal charges, though. In Friday’s Capital Tonight, we looked at whether the state’s top officeholders could face political repercussions as they vie for higher office.

REPORTER ROUNDTABLE

The online exchange tied to the Affordable Care Act got a shot in the arm this week, but state leaders are already eyeing new complications stemming from the law. Our reporter roundtable weighed in on that and other developments.

CANDIDATE CONVERSATION

Plus, we continued our series of conversations with the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson joined us to talk about gun rights, border security and more.

Former cancer agency executive indicted over $11M grant

A Travis County grand jury has indicted former CPRIT executive Jerald Cobbs regarding an improperly vetted grant to a Dallas-based pharmaceutical company

The indictment charges Cobbs with presenting a grant proposal for Peloton Therapeutics to the agency’s oversight committee in August 2010, without revealing that it hadn’t gone through the agency’s review process. Cobbs is charged with “securing the execution of a document by deception,” a first-degree felony.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas first came under fire in 2012, when an audit revealed the agency doled out more than $50 million outside of the proper channels.

Cobb has since retired from the agency.

 

 

Capital Tonight: Questions emerge over voter affidavits

Gregory Wayne Abbott will have to sign one when he shows up to the polls, and Wendy Russell Davis has already had to do so. In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we examine the argument over affidavits — the sworn statements voters must sign when their photo IDs differ from their voter registration cards.

REVIVING CPRIT

The state’s cancer research funding agency is back up and running, after state leaders lifted a moratorium on the grant process. But after a high-profile scandal over misuse of the approval process, can the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas successfully rehabilitate its image? Our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, joined us to weigh in on that topic and more.

HEALTH CARE COSTS

Regardless of your thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, there’s no doubt that premiums will rise for some in Texas. We spoke with John Davidson with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation about why he believes young, adult males will be hit the hardest.

State leaders lift moratorium on CPRIT grants

The state’s cancer-fighting agency can once again provide grants.
Today, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus lifted the moratorium they imposed last December. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas came under fire when it was revealed the agency failed to follow the proper procedures in awarding an $11 million grant to a Dallas firm. The scandal even prompted a criminal investigation.

Last session, lawmakers approved legislation to keep closer tabs on CPRIT, including a new six-member oversight board, which has since been appointed. Today’s announcement means CPRIT can resume grant operations and finalize remaining contracts.

The $3 billion agency was approved by voters in 2007 with the goal of funding cancer research and prevention efforts in Texas.

Capital Tonight: Responding to public controversy

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is responding to criticism over a phone call made to the Allen Police Department in an attempt to get a family member out of jail.

While the lieutenant governor maintains he was acting as a concerned family member, some political experts say public officials should know where to draw the line, and many are even speculating this could do some real damage to his political future.

REGENTS RESPOND

The UT board of regents made changes Thursday, amid controversy surrounding one of their own. Members appointed El Paso businessman Paul Foster as the new chairman, and directed staff to provide a detailed report of on the UT system’s handling of requests under the Texas Public Information Act.

BACK ON TRACK?

The state’s embattled cancer prevention agency has new life after a lack of oversight in the grant-review process drew heightened scrutiny.

We sat down with CPRIT’s interim executive director, Wayne Roberts, to find out where the reconciliation process stands and where the agency’s work is headed.

Budget committee takes steps to restore CPRIT funding

The state’s top cancer fighting agency appears to be back in lawmakers’ good graces.

Members of the conference committee on the budget have agreed to restore more than $594 million in funding to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The organization has been under fire since last year, when the approval of a grant worth $11 million came into question, sparking a criminal investigation. Funding for CPRIT was cut in the Legislature’s original budget proposals.

The restoration of funds is contingent on the passage of Senate Bill 149, however. Sen. Jane Nelson’s bill would ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients and create a new oversight position to make sure agency rules are followed.

She released a statement today, saying:

“I am grateful to the conference committee for allowing CPRIT to move forward and approving these funds. I was very disappointed in the poor decision making and mistakes that came to light this session, but believe we must keep up our fight against cancer. SB 149, which was approved by the House Public Health Committee last week, will ensure CPRIT operates in a transparent and accountable way in the future and that these issues will be solved. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support CPRIT during this time. I am looking forward to a bright future for the Institute.”

Capital Tonight: Water, guns and education

Planning for Growth

The need to fund water infrastructure has been at the forefront of the legislative session this year, especially with the growing population in Texas. A plan to draw out $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund failed to pass Monday, but Gov. Perry said lawmakers can expect to be in session until they find a resolution.

A bill passed out of committee Tuesday that would allow students to store their licensed concealed handgun in their vehicle on campus. Lawmakers said they want to give students the same rights that others have.

Standardized Testing

The house voted Tuesday to make changes to standardized tests for fourth and seventh grades. The changes include removing the standardized writing test and limiting the time needed to take the required tests.

Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment is one of the grass roots groups supporting the changes. Joanne Salazar joined Paul Brown to discuss their campaign and the changes they hope to bring about.

Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Steve Munisteri sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including the Rainy Day Fund and Battleground Texas.

The Transparency Committee is continuing its look into CPRIT, and a bill that will make changes to the embattled agency is headed to the House.

Capital Tonight: Revisiting vouchers, CPRIT and more

School Vouchers

Republicans and Democrats sparred once again over school vouchers Tuesday — including whether or not a newly proposed law counted as a voucher at all.

A bill filed by Sen. Dan Patrick would partially pay for private school tuition through scholarships funded by tax-exempt donations. The bill has the support of Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., but Sen. Wendy Davis expressed skepticism.

Another hearing Tuesday looked into oversight of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT has been under fire since last year, with questions of grant-rigging and even a criminal investigation. Trust, transparency and accountability were at the top of the committee’s list Tuesday.

Equal Under the Law

A bill extending the Romeo and Juliet provision passed out of a Senate committee Tuesday. It would extend the Romeo and Juliet defense to same-sex couples over the age of 14.

Earlier in the day, 600 women visited the Capitol hoping to turn it blue for the day. Blue Ribbon Lobby Day organizers are pushing lawmakers to say yes to Medicaid expansion, restoring public education cuts and returning Planned Parenthood to the Women’s Health Program.

Capital Commentators

Harold Cook and Ted Delisi sat down with Paul Brown to discuss the day’s political news, including school choice bills, CPRIT and new border security legislation filed by Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Michael McCaul.

Senate passes CPRIT reform bills

The Texas Senate has unanimously passed two bills to overhaul the state’s embattled cancer fighting agency. Republican Sen. Jane Nelson authored both bills, which will in part, restructure CPRIT’s leadership to make sure agency rules are followed and ban agency executives from having business relationships with award recipients.

CPRIT has been under fire for several grants being awarded without going through the proper approval process. Tuesday, the private foundation linked to the state agency announced it was shutting down. The move follows an investigation by the State Attorney General’s Office over what it calls “serious legal concerns” surrounding the nonprofit.

On today’s legislation, Sen. Nelson said she’s pleased the Senate unanimously passed a bill she believes will restore confidence to the public.

In 2007, Texas voters approved spending $3 billion on cancer research.

The bill to overhaul the agency now goes to the House for consideration.