James Drew and Sue Goetinck Ambrose
A.H. Belo Corp. and The Dallas Morning News
On June 14, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law to overhaul how the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas operates. The legislature took action after several articles in 2012 by James Drew and Sue Goetinck Ambrose that documented how CPRIT’s vaunted scientific review process for awarding grants was more public relations than actual practice. They also showed how the small state agency acted as a political tool by channeling grants to the friends of powerful politicians.
But Drew and Ambrose did not stop there. As legislators convened in January, 2013, the reporters continued to investigate. Through a series of stories, they exposed how high-ranking CPRIT officials impaired their agency’s independence by becoming too involved in the largest grant it had awarded — $25 million to a nonprofit to create a statewide clinical trials network — when they should have ensured that grant dollars were spent properly. They also were the first to report how Attorney General Greg Abbott faced a maze of actual and potential conflicts of interest by his office having a seat on CPRIT’s governing board at the same time Abbott was investigating how the agency awarded grants. That civil investigation included the actions of Abbott’s fellow board members who had contributed to his political campaigns.
The reforms that Perry signed into law last June included a ban on CPRIT officials serving on the boards of grant recipients and removed the attorney general from membership on the agency’s oversight committee. This was a classic case of investigative journalism that made a significant impact on Texas government and public policy. Drew and Ambrose not only exposed governmental misbehavior through tireless reporting, but their reporting yielded dramatic results that should benefit all Texans. We are pleased to offer these stories for your consideration.
The last two links report on the felony indictment of a former high-ranking CPRIT official, Jerald “Jerry” Cobbs. The News was the first to report the resignation of Cobbs as the agency’s chief commercialization officer. The newspaper’s reporting on a grant to a Dallas biotechnology firm led to the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office opening a criminal investigation into how CPRIT awarded grants. That investigation led to the charges against Cobbs that are pending.
Submitted by Maud Beelman.