DALLAS – A private foundation linked to the $3 billion bond-funded Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas may have improperly changed its name and procedures in the wake of several investigations of alleged insider deals, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.
The Texas Cancer Coalition, formerly the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas Foundation, was established through legislation to support the CPRIT, a state agency funded by voter-approved bonds.
The non-profit foundation accepted tax-deductible contributions to increase the salaries of CPRIT’s top executives and fund conferences. Among the donors were individuals, bio-tech, pharmaceutical and banking companies.
The Travis County District Attorney’s office in Austin is investigating grants from CPRIT to political contributors to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who championed the creation of the $3 billion state bond program through a constitutional amendment.
One $11 million grant to a company backed by a Perry contributor did not have to go through the approval process required of others. About $56 million of questionable grants are under investigation, according to various reports.
Abbott’s office is also investigating changes at the private foundation that may have taken place without any state approval. Even though the foundation is private, it was established by state law and may be subject to state oversight, according to investigators. Records indicate that the foundation has raised $3.6 million.
“Based on the preliminary information available to us at this time, we have serious legal concerns about the events that reportedly surrounded the formation of the TCC [Texas Cancer Coalition],” G. David Whitley, Texas assistant deputy attorney general, wrote in a letter to the foundation.
“The TCC’s proceeding with its own formation and asserting ownership over CPRIT Foundation funds, in the absence of state authorization, necessarily raises substantial questions about the substance of the transaction, business judgment and credibility,” Whitley added.
Craig Enoch, the foundation’s lawyer, told the Austin American-Statesman that the foundation had discussed for two months its plans to separate itself from the troubled cancer agency and pursue a broader cancer-fighting mission with legislative leaders, agency officials and even a member of the attorney general’s staff.
The Internal Revenue Service mistakenly granted the foundation an exemption from filing disclosure documents called 990s that are submitted by most nonprofits, according to an IRS letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle. With the controversy growing over the web of relationships between donors, companies and lobbyists, the foundation decided to release the records anyway.