(AP) - California's new stem cell agency is generating a lot of talk -- and it's not all about the ethics of human embryonic research. First Amendment advocates are grousing about the veil of secrecy covering how the agency is coming together and where $3 billion in taxpayer money is going. The criticism started last fall during the debate over Proposition 71, the bond measure ultimately passed by voters that funds the agency, and picked up this week ahead of a key organizational meeting.

The activists argue that being able to follow the money is the only way to guarantee it isn't being mishandled. Doing that, though, wouldn't be easy even if the board had already put confict-of-interest safeguards in place, because of the explicit exemptions written into Proposition 71.

Under the measure, the agency's financial oversight committees are exempt from the state's open-meeting law when it comes to discussing patients, intellectual property concerns and sensitive scientific data it wants to keep confidential.

"The built-in secrecy provisions are a central flaw that may contribute to others," said Terry Francke of Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization that promotes open government and the First Amendment. "Prop 71 makes the process of governance almost entirely secret."

Francke called for board members to pledge to ignore the privacy provisions and vow to conduct most of its work in public. He and other critics also complained that the public knew very little about Thursday's day-long meeting.

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