Dallas nonprofit among donors to embattled Texas cancer-fighting agency's foundation

Dallas Morning News - James Drew
January 10, 2013

AUSTIN — A nonprofit group led by Dallas businessman David Shanahan contributed $35,000 to a foundation created to help pay salaries and other expenses at Texas’ cancer-fighting agency, according to a donor list released Thursday.

Shanahan was president of the Mary Crowley Cancer Foundation, which made the donation in 2009 to the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Foundation.

Formed that same year, the CPRIT Foundation raised private dollars in part to help supplement the salaries of two agency officials: Bill Gimson, the executive director, whose annual salary was $300,000, and Dr. Alfred Gilman, the chief scientific officer, who made $700,000 annually. Both Gimson and Gilman resigned last year.

CPRIT’s Oversight Committee ratified two awards to Shanahan’s firms — $748,905 to Carrollton-based Gradalis Inc. in 2010 and $12.8 million to Caliber Biotherapeutics in 2011.

Shanahan could not be reached for comment Thursday. A spokesman, Austin lobbyist and political consultant Bill Miller, replied “no connection whatsoever” when asked if there was a link between the Crowley Foundation donation and the awards to Shanahan’s companies.

The Dallas Morning News reported last November that CPRIT funds went to companies run by Shanahan after he and several of his associates contributed $90,000 to the campaign funds of Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst. The governor and lieutenant governor appoint three members each to the 11-member CPRIT Oversight Committee.

The questions about the CPRIT Foundation are among several swirling around the small state agency, which is under investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office and the Texas attorney general’s office.

The CPRIT Foundation released the donor list to state legislators and other officials who have raised questions whether the foundation was used as a “pay-to-play” vehicle for the state agency. CPRIT and officials of the foundation have rejected that charge.

A rider inserted into the state appropriations bill in 2009 says “an individual, an organization, or an employee, officer or director of an organization that makes a contribution to the CPRIT Foundation” is not eligible to receive grants from the agency. Ellen Read, a CPRIT spokesman, said that provision would prohibit any grants to the Crowley Cancer Foundation itself.

The CPRIT Foundation also disclosed that Shanahan is among several individuals and companies to which it issued refunds “in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.” A $1,000 donation from Shanahan was refunded because he is “affiliated with Gradalis,” said Marc Palazzo, a CPRIT Foundation spokesman.

Glenn Smith, director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas Political Action Committee, said the problem with the CPRIT Foundation, which had not released its donor list until Thursday, is that “it’s a way to buy the favor that you want from the state.”

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